A program that blocks the deportation of military spouses and families who are not U.S. citizens while their spouse is deployed may be at risk under the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
The program, known as Parole in Place, PIP, was created in 2013 to put service members at ease about their undocumented families while they are deployed overseas by granting them the right to stay in the U.S. It was expanded just last November.
President Trump has signed a number of executive orders aimed at reshaping U.S. immigration, including speeding up the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security released a series of implementation plans for those orders, including a statement asserting that “the lawful detention of aliens arriving in the United States and deemed inadmissible … is the most efficient means by which to enforce the immigration laws at our borders.”
That includes hiring new agents to “detect, track, and apprehend all aliens illegally entering the United States,” with discretion for DHS officials and judges to grant exceptions for some foreign nationals. It specifies that parole programs should be "exercised sparingly."
While the executive order mentioned parole programs, the two letters from DHS did not — an omission that is leaving many undocumented military families confused and concerned
“In the last week I have been contacted by a small number undocumented military family members who are scared and are either unaware of PIP at all or who are scared to apply for it because they have not made their presence known to immigration authorities in the past for whatever reason,” said Anna Rabe, who is a non-practicing lawyer, and immigrant herself.
Rabe is the member of a Facebook called Esposas Militares Hispanas, which acts as a forum for military wives and husbands to interact. One of the recent threads of conversation circles around a mutual fear of deportation.
Janet Sanchez leads the group, and said people unsure of what to do have also contacted her personally.
“For my spouses is the fear of been deported and having their families separated,” Sanchez, said. “We have families that are going to a [permanent change of station] overseas. With this issue, now they prefer to stay back home and let the military person PCS alone overseas. Fear is huge.”
About 3 percent of those who join the active duty military each year are not U.S. citizens and about 18,700 non-citizens served on active duty between 2010 and 2016, according to the Department of Defense. A significant number of those service members have family members who are also not citizens. PIP was created to make sure their family members would still be in the country when they returned home.
“We don’t want our deployed service members worried while they are on deployment,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. “There are so many stressors on military families, we don’t need people in harms way in support of our nation to be worried about stuff like this.”
A spokesperson for The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security said that they are still processing requests for PIP regardless of the executive order: “USCIS continues to adjudicate applications and petitions filed for or on behalf of individuals in the United States regardless of their country of origin… Applications to adjust status continue to be adjudicated, according to existing policies and procedures.”
UCIS would not elaborate further as to how the existing policies and procedures have changed since the executive order. DHS did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But immigration lawyers say the process in some areas seems to be stalled and they are hearing conflicting reports.
“There are still some USCIS field offices claiming they are waiting for headquarters guidance on whether its been cancelled or not,” said Margaret Stock, a lawyer at Cascadia cross-border law group. “There are others that have told us the program is on hold because they have training issues so they haven’t been able to process cases—which adds to the perception that it’s not available.”
While DHS does not release data specifically on PIP requests and approvals, Stock said that the number of applications is consistent. She said she gets about a call a day asking about PIP applications. But she’s also heard from some who have decided not to apply at all.
“One client decided not to file, because they were just too worried about it and thought it wasn’t worth the risk. She thought the immigration agency was going to pick up the husband and try to deport him if they filed,” Stock recalled. “And that case particularly bothered me because she’s a disabled veteran and she’s been married for quite a while and they have kids and he’s the stay at home caretaker. So not applying means he just stays at home and doesn’t get his visa to which he’s entitled.”