Late last month, President Joe Biden’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) quietly issued a directive telling agents to “generally not” deport noncitizens with U.S. military service. The directive also advised against deporting the immediate family members of noncitizens with U.S. military service.
The May 23 order, issued by ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, directed deportation agents to take into consideration U.S. military service as a “significant mitigating factor that weighs against” taking “civil immigration enforcement actions against them.”
Johnson also wrote that ICE officers and agents should “generally not initiate removal proceedings against noncitizens who are statutorily eligible for naturalization as a result of their military service…absent significant aggravating factors.”
The directive also said that ICE will “generally not” deport active-duty U.S. service members.
Johnson’s order defines military service as including “service in the National Guard or the active or reserve components of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Space Force.”
“Service can be for any length of time but must be more than just for training,” the directive stated.
ICE agents and officers should also refrain from deporting noncitizen U.S. service members or veterans’ immediate family members, including parents, spouses and children.
According to the new policy, ICE officers and agents will be required to ask all noncitizens if they “have served, or are currently serving, in the U.S. military” or if “an immediate family member has served, or is currently serving, in the U.S. military.”
ICE chief of staff Jason Houser said the directive is “not a total ban” on deporting veterans or active service members, CBS News reported.
“There are of course circumstances where there is still going to be potential for veterans to be removed,” Houser said, noting that a serious criminal conviction could result in deportation regardless of a noncitizen’s military service.
Houser said ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch “has about 6,000 officers, DOs, deportation officers.”
“That’s about the size of the Harris County, Texas, sheriff’s department,” he added. “And we want to make sure that those officers are focused on those national security, public safety threats.”
The directive comes as a massive caravan of migrants — that’s expected to grow to about 15,000 people — is making its way north to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The migrants in the caravan primarily consist of people from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, though the Guardian reports the caravan also consists of people from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and even people from India, Bangladesh, and some African countries.