that allows undocumented immigrants who are closely related to
military personnel to stay in the country. The order comes amid
mounting pressure on Obama.
want the president to do more to limit deportations, the Obama
administration has quietly issued a directive to help undocumented
immigrants who are closely related to military personnel stay in the
The effort is called “parole in place,” and it aims to end rampant
confusion among immigration officials about how to treat the parents,
spouses, and minor children of those in active duty as well as
veterans and reservists. Under parole in place, these relatives no
longer have to leave the country to apply for legal U.S. status — a
situation that often resulted in the applicants being barred from
reentering the U.S. for years.
The move follows a more sweeping decision by President Obama last year
to defer deportation for some young immigrants who have lived in the
United States illegally since they were children. With immigration
reform having ground to a standstill in Congress, such
executive-branch actions are seen as the only means for Obama to
advance pro-immigrant policies, at least for now.
It is unclear how many undocumented immigrants the directive will
affect. But “it’s very significant,” says Margaret Stock, an Alaska
immigration attorney and retired Army reserve lieutenant colonel. “It
will affect a lot of people.”
Late last month, Mr. Obama was heckled at an event in San Francisco by
a young man who complained: “Our families are separated. I need your
help! You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented
immigrants in this country.”
Obama countered: “Actually, I don’t,” and argued that only Congress,
through immigration reform, can stop deportations on a massive scale.
But the Department of Homeland Security has long had the authority to
halt the deportation of people related to military personnel, and it
is this function that the department clarified with specific
guidelines to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in a
Nov. 15 memorandum. The order relies on existing statutes and is not
an eclipsing of congressional authority, homeland security officials
Critics disagree. They see parole in place, like Obama’s Deferred
Action for Childhood Arrivals last year, as amnesty by small drips.
“By the end of 2016, the administration may well have decided it can
parole in nearly all of the illegal alien population,” writes Dan
Stein of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which pushes
for tight immigration laws, on the group’s website. “Finding ways to
overcome statutory limits on immigration appears to be the
administration’s overriding policy objective.”
For some military families, parole in place will ease the anxiety
deployed service men and women felt about the possibility of family
members being deported in their absence, officials say. The idea of
having to leave the country in order to legally gain reentry has been
“an infamous Catch-22 that’s been in the law since 1996 when Congress
created it,” says Ms. Stock.
The U.S. government has historically relied on immigrants to help
fight its wars. Almost half of enlisted Army soldiers in the 1840s
were immigrants, and, between 1862 and 2000, more than 660,000
veterans obtained citizenship, says Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a
Department of Defense spokesman.
“Noncitizens that serve in the armed forces have, and will continue to
play a vital role in the U.S. military,” he adds, noting that some
35,000 noncitizens serve in the military, with about 5,000 of them
enlisting each year.
After 9/11, the government made various policy changes to encourage
legal residents to enlist in the military, says Daniel Cosgrove, a
President Bush’s 2002 order offering noncitizens a fast track to
citizenship proved attractive for many immigrants who chose to join
the armed forces. Between that year and 2013, a total of 97,742
immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens here and abroad.
Up until the draft ended in 1973, many immigrants who served in
military combat were in the country illegally.
“Undocumented people get drafted,” Stock says. “And so if you were a
male, and you were living in the country without papers, you got
drafted, and you would serve in the military and get your citizenship
after you got drafted.”