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Harrisburg attorney helps deported U.S. veterans, urging for changes to laws

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A Harrisburg attorney is leading the efforts to help deported veterans get back the U.S.

Believe it or not there are many people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces that were not and are not citizens. Some have been kicked out of the country following their service.

"This is a big issue, it’s not a small issue," Craig Shagin explained. "It involves a lot of people both who are serving in the military and thereafter."

For the past few decades, immigration cases have piled up on Craig Shagin’s desk. In the past year, they’ve hit an all time high.

"The hardest part of the immigration practice is it's a practice of deep human misery," Shagin said. "It's easy to talk in the abstract about deporting people or not letting people in. But when you look at the situation up close and personal, you get a very different feeling."

Like the feeling he got meeting Kevin Martinez who enlisted in the U.S. military in 1990 when he was in the process of getting citizenship.

"After serving eight years in the U.S. Army I began working as a government contractor and while on vacation, re-entering the country, I was deported to Belize for 13 years," Martinez said.

Shagin said a past simple battery charge stemming from a domestic situation didn't allow this father of two to re-enter the country.

"Even though you couldn't be deported for one crime involving moral turpitude, you can't be re-admitted for it. So it's a different standard because you left the boundaries of the United States," Shagin explained.

Then Shagin said Martinez's charge was mis-classified as felony, taking more than a decade for lawyers to get him back in the country.

Now he's checked his naturalization interview off the list and is waiting for a date to be sworn in.

"My family, we are anticipating that day when I raise my right hand swearing my allegiance to America as I have done before wearing a uniform," Martinez said.

He recently came back to the U.S. and is now living in California. He's working as a warehouse worker, while in school getting his business administration degree.

Dozens of other men also swore their allegiance as soldiers and were later deported.

Shagin said the number of people who enlist that aren't citizens are in the thousands. Most of the time their future deportation has to do with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, that created a long list of aggravated felonies, that if a non-citizen was charged with, they would be deported.

The first veteran deportation Act he worked on was in 1998. He said he was representing a veteran who had served in Vietnam.

Unfortunately he said there was not much he could do for the deported veteran under the way the laws are written.

That he says must be changed. He questions why someone who risked their life serving as for the United States is guaranteed to be a nationalist thereafter, at the very least a citizen.

"The real point is we should make a decision if these people are going to serve in our military, do we think they deserve the right to be citizens at that time, regardless of what happens later in their life, at the time of their service that's when their status changes to being a citizen of the United States rather than just being a lawful permanent resident."

Shagin urges Congress to make that decision.

He said a San Diego congressman has tried to bring up the fight before, but as more cases are brought to light the need for changes to the law is becoming more necessary.

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