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DONNA, RGV – Congressman Filemon Vela held a news conference to highlight the importance of preventing veterans from being deported and helping veterans who have been deported gain access to health care and other services.

The event was held at American Legion Post 107 on South Main Street in Donna. While Post 107 in Donna was not the first American Legion Post to be chartered, it was the first to be built, owned and operated by veterans.

Among those in attendance were Felix Rodriguez, Hidalgo County Veteran’s Service Officer, and Jaime Longoria, executive director of Hidalgo County Community Service Agency.

“I met with local veterans at the oldest American Legion in the world to increase awareness about deported veterans. For their sacrifice, this country owes these men and women so much and for that reason I wanted to bring attention to veterans who our country has failed—our deported veterans,” Vela said.

As of January 2017, there were 10,644 noncitizens currently serving in the U.S. military and an additional 11,524 noncitizens under reserve status. The greatest numbers of lawful permanent resident (LPR) service members come from the Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica, South Korea, and the Dominican Republic. Overall, there are about 608,000 living foreign-born veterans of the U.S. armed forces from nations around the world.

Many LPR service members are told by recruiters that they can quickly gain citizenship for themselves and their family after serving honorably. However, they are not advised that citizenship is not granted automatically and that they must actively seek citizenship through the standard (although expedited) application process. A 2016 report by the ACLU estimates that the United States has deported more than 230 veterans.

Meanwhile, seven members of Congress on Saturday visited the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, to meet with veterans who have been deported from the United States.

During the visit, U.S. Representatives Vicente Gonzalez and Joaquin Castro of Texas, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Lou Correa, Juan Vargas, and Nanette Diaz Barragán of California toured the facility and heard the personal stories of deported veterans.