This week, MOAA signed on to a letter with the American Immigration Lawyers Association opposing the end of Parole in Place for military families. The letter, sent to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, was prompted by recent news indicating the policy for military families is in jeopardy. Read the full letter here.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials told reporters the policy is being reviewed, and a decision regarding termination of the protection will be released at the end of the month.
Parole in Place for military families allows undocumented parents, spouses, and children of servicemembers the right to reside in the U.S. and qualify for other benefits, such as eligibility for employment authorization and adjustment of status. Typically, undocumented individuals cannot adjust their status without having been “admitted or paroled” legally into the U.S. If an individual entered through a different means, they must leave the U.S. and travel to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
The process is long and can take up to a year, with no guarantee they will be allowed to return after leaving. Often, people who leave and try to return to the U.S. are barred from reentering for anywhere from three to 10 years. Parole in Place allows military families to apply for these benefits and adjust their immigration status without leaving the country or fearing deportation.
While the number of non-citizen military dependents is not known, according to a U.S. Armed Forces Fact Sheet published by the National Immigration Forum:
- Between 1999 and 2010, about 80,000 immigrants joined the military.
- About 24,000 immigrants were on active duty in 2012.
- About 5,000 immigrants join the military each year; in 2013, almost 4,000 noncitizens enlisted in the Army alone.
- From FY 2001 to 2015, 109,321 immigrant servicemembers became naturalized citizens.
- Since 2008, 2,650 military spouses have become naturalized citizens.
“Two of MOAA’s top priorities are preventing the erosion of quality-of-life benefits for servicemembers and protecting military and veteran family support programs and policies” says MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret). “We cannot have our troops worried if their family member may be deported. Parole in Place ensures consistent support for our troops and their families and reinforces military readiness.”
A recent poll indicates 87% of servicemembers and veterans agree dependents of servicemembers should not be subject to deportation.
Bipartisan Support for Military Families
In 2010, 18 members of Congress, including then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), wrote a bipartisan letter to DHS urging the consistent use of Parole in Place for military families. In 2013, DHS created a formal, mandatory policy for military families. The policy was implemented to reduce stress on military members and minimize periods of family separation.
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In 2016, DHS issued an additional memo to clarify and amend the policy. The 2016 memo expanded Parole in Place to include military children of any age, striking previous limitations allowing only children under the age of 21 to secure this benefit. In the 2016 memo, DHS noted policies outlined were intended to facilitate military morale, aid in efforts to recruit foreign nationals with critical skills, and ensure the nation supports its military personnel and their families.
In January 2017, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13767 to increase border security and immigration enforcement. This executive order reinforces the use of Parole in Place on a case-by-case basis, diminishing eligibility opportunities for military families and creating new uncertainty for this population.
The House version of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision, introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), that mandates servicemembers and their families be eligible for Parole in Place while still giving DHS discretion on who’s ultimately granted this protection. The provision additionally provides a sense of Congress reinforcing the importance of the program.
Despite a politically charged environment, this issue has a history of bipartisan support. While MOAA does not get involved in matters of border security or immigration reform, the association supports Parole in Place for military families to fulfill our mission of maintaining a strong national defense.