De­por­ta­tion talk un­nerves troops

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - VERA BERGENGRUEN

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.

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