Deportation talk unnerves troops
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal aliens has raised concern for U.S. troops who have relied on a little-known program to protect their family members in the country illegally from deportation while the military personnel are deployed to war zones.
Parole-in-place reprieves are meant to keep deployed service members focused by easing any worry about the safety of relatives back home who are illegal aliens, including spouses and immediate family. Defense officials say the program is crucial to alleviating unrelated stress on the battlefield by allowing troops’ family members to live in the U.S. without fear of being deported and to apply for a green card without having to leave the country.
But as immigration arrests spike under the Trump administration’s promised crackdown on people in the country illegally, immigration lawyers have begun warning their military clients that they can no longer rely on the parole-in-place program.
“The concern is that it hasn’t been endorsed by the administration, and there are several initiatives that might sweep this into the broader reworking of the immigration system,” said David Kubat, an immigration lawyer and military veteran who serves in the National Guard in St. Paul, Minn.
Kubat said the program affects thousands of military families but doesn’t get the same attention as other special status programs, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects people brought to America illegally as children.
“It helps them deploy without being afraid,” said Kubat. “Having your parents, your spouse and your children in a secure status is critical, especially in a stressful environment where you might not speak to them for weeks.”
Many military family members applying for parole in place received calls from their immigration attorneys in February, after Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a memo on implementing Trump’s executive order on immigration. Under the new guidance, the program appeared to have been scrapped. Kelly’s memo stated that with the exception of the deferred action policy from the President Barack Obama era, “all existing conflicting directives, memoranda, or field guidance regarding the enforcement of our immigration laws and priorities for removal are hereby immediately rescinded.”
In the following weeks, spokesmen for the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the parole-in-place program still existed and the language did not apply to it. A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed to McClatchy News that as of this month, the program is still accepting applications under the existing policy.
But there has been no official word from the White House that the protection for families of deployed military will stay in place as the president considers changes to all special status programs. Immigration and military advocates say they are wary of relying on the word of department spokesmen, given the widening crackdown and news that even the deferred action program is now at risk of being eliminated.
Immigration attorneys in California, Florida, Minnesota and Texas said they have been able to get military families’ applications approved since the Trump administration’s new guidance. However, the uncertainty about the program’s future and fear of being caught up in the widening net of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests has had a significant dampening effect.
Indeed, attorneys say they are seeing more parole-inplace applications denied since Trump took office.
“I’m seeing a lot more denials … than we saw under the Obama administration, and many people are afraid to apply now because of all the mixed signals from the administration,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and retired Army officer who designed the military’s program for immigrant recruits.
The practice of allowing illegal alien spouses of deployed military service members to stay in the United States began on a case-by-case basis under President George W. Bush. When parole in place was established in 2013, at the request of the Pentagon, it was billed as a military readiness initiative.
Critics slammed the program as a “back door to amnesty” and “amnesty by drips” to people in the U.S. illegally based on their relationship with military service members.
“We should not be so naive as to think that each scenario involving parole-in-place will be a soldier marrying a harmless illegal alien, perhaps one brought here as a child, who is ‘practically American,’” wrote Dan Cadman of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels, in a review of the program.
Today, defense officials call it critical to the safety of deployed personnel. And program advocates say its potential as a recruitment tool is being overlooked as the U.S. Army is forced to hand out larger enlistment bonuses to incentivize native-born Americans to enlist. In February, the Army said it was offering bonuses worth up to $40,000, or enlistment contracts as short as two years, in an effort to recruit 6,000 more soldiers than it had planned for 2017.
“If you’re not scared to identify your mother as someone here illegally, if the Army goes and helps you with the biggest fear that you have in your life, you’re going to have a loyalty above and beyond raising your right hand and saying some words,” Kubat said.