Originally published Monday, November 11, 2019 at 05:08p.m.

PHOENIX – The state's top Republican senator said Monday that immigration officials need to examine situations before veterans who are in this country illegally are deported.

"We want to give honor where it is due to all of our veterans,” said Sen. Martha McSally after touring the state Veteran Home. "Each case needs to be taken a look at based on what the circumstances are with that case.”

That is supposed to be what happens now.

But a report earlier this year by the federal General Accounting Office concluded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no actual idea about how many veterans it deported during the past five year.

Potentially more significant, the report said that ICE does not follow its own policies which are supposed to help decide when a veteran should be allowed to stay.

"ICE policies require them to take additional steps to proceed with the case,” the GAO report says.

It also said that ICE does not have a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters. And even when agents learn they are dealing with a vet, the agency does not maintain complete electronic data.

The report says ICE targeted at least 250 veterans who are immigrants, deporting at least 84 of them between 2013 and 2016. But it says the numbers could be higher because the agency does not consistently ask those they encounter about their military service.

"Therefore ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases,” the report says.

McSally, questioned about that report Monday, did not dispute the findings.

"In our oversight role, we need to make sure it does happen,” she said.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who was with McSally on the tour, deflected questions about whether those who have served in the military should be allowed to remain despite being in this country illegally.

"Today's Veterans Day,” he responded. "I'm here to honor the veterans.”

Anyway, the governor said, this is a federal and not a state issue.

"We want to pay all respect and gratitude to people that are defending our country,” Ducey said.

"This immigration issue is something that's been left unsolved for some time,” he said. "It's not going to be solved on Veterans Day.”

In general, veterans remain invisible to ICE until they get into some kind of legal trouble. That can range from domestic violence to more serious crimes.

NPR reports there are about 40 deported veterans who live in Tijuana, with another 24 in Ciudad Juarez.