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Military families may soon lose key immigration protections

Alejandra Juarez, left, passes through TSA screening on Aug. 3, 2018, at the Orlando International Airport on her deportation flight to Mexico. Juarez ran out of options to keep her Davenport, Fla., family together after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied the Polk County Marine veteran's wife stay of removal request. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

The Trump administration is considering changes to immigration policies that had previously protected the spouse and dependents of military service members from deportation, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official confirmed Monday.

“Parole in Place” is an immigration policy implemented at the height of the Iraq War to help deployed soldiers not worry that their undocumented family members would be deported while they were overseas.

It is one of several immigration options made available to the military in recognition of “the important sacrifices made by U.S. armed forces members, veterans, enlistees and their families. To support these individuals, we provide discretionary options such as parole in place or deferred action on a case-by-case basis,” the agency says on a web page for service members.

Parole in place grants undocumented dependents and spouses a reprieve to be able to legally adjust their immigration status without having to leave the United States or be deported first. The program was rarely used until senior military leaders and then-members of Congress — including Vice President Mike Pence — urged in 2010 that the Department of Homeland Security increase access to the program.

A USCIS official confirmed exclusively to McClatchy, on condition of anonymity, that the agency is now reviewing the program. Any changes would be limited to dependents of service members, the official said.

Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, an attorney who specializes in military immigration issues, said the administration is expected to issue a decision on whether or not to end Parole in Place at the end of July. She first became aware of the proposed changes when attorneys for some of the service members who could lose their dependents to deportation began expediting requests to get the reprieves for their family members.

The policy review comes at a time when it has become more difficult overall for service members to pursue U.S. citizenship. The number of military naturalizations has plummeted since President Donald Trump took office, and service members are now rejected for citizenship at a higher rate than civilian applicants, according to the most recent USCIS data available.

In the last several years, Parole in Place has been used sparingly, and has not protected all of the dependents of service members from deportation. The federal agency responsible for all adjudication of immigration cases does not track the number of waivers or deportations of service members or their dependents that it has processed.


© 2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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