ICE does not know how many veterans it has deported, watchdog finds

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Washington (CNN)US Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not know exactly how many noncitizen veterans it has deported over the last five years, according to a federal watchdog group.

In a new report released Thursday, the Government Accountability Office not only concluded that ICE has failed to consistently adhere to its own policies related to cases of veterans who may be subject to deportation but also lacks a complete record of how many of these individuals were removed from the US from 2013 to 2018.
"ICE has developed policies for handling cases of noncitizen veterans who may be subject to removal from the United States, but does not consistently adhere to those policies, and does not consistently identify and track such veterans," the report states.
    "Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data," it reads. "Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans' cases."
    Those findings have drawn the ire of Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who's the chairman of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee, who sent a letter to acting ICE Director Mark Morgan on Thursday demanding answers.
    "I was deeply alarmed by the findings in the report that show not only are we unable to fully quantify how many of these men and women are being deported, but that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has certain policies already in place to which it consistently fails to adhere," he wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by CNN.
    An ICE spokesperson said in a statement that the agency "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving veterans" and noted that "any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an individual with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel."
    "ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country on a case-by-case basis when appropriate. ICE specifically identifies service in the US military as a positive factor that should be considered along with other factors in the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised," the statement said.
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