Is Trump Withdrawing Deportation Protections for Families of Active Troops?

The Trump administration is said to be “reviewing” a program that allows officials to grant protections against deportation to the undocumented family members of deployed U.S. soldiers.

  • Published 8 July 2019
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On June 27, 2019, NPR reported that the Trump administration wanted “to scale back a program that protects undocumented family members of active-duty troops from being deported.” That program, known as “Parole in Place,” provides U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) personnel with the discretion to grant protections against deportation to the undocumented family members of U.S. services members on a temporary basis, as described by NPR:

It specifically allows military family members who have come to the country illegally — and can’t adjust their immigration status — to stay in the U.S. temporarily. A spouse who overstayed a visa, for example, would not be protected under the program. The original objective of the policy was to minimize disruption to the life of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine whose family member might have been subject to deportation.

Citing “attorneys familiar with those plans [who are] racing to submit applications [for] parole in place,” NPR reported that the wives and loved ones of deployed soldiers had been told that the parole in place option was “being terminated.” USCIS declined to comment publicly on those claims, but on July 2, 2019, citing an anonymous USCIS official, the McClatchy Washington Bureau reported that “the agency is now reviewing the program [and that] any changes would be limited to dependents of service members.” An email from a “government lawyer” obtained by NPR, however, suggested that an official end to the policy may already have been proposed:

One government lawyer is urging immigration lawyers to act quickly before the program is officially terminated next month. “I would advise clients that if they are eligible for [parole in place] to submit it ASAP,” a government lawyer warned other attorneys in a message obtained by NPR, adding later: “Wish there was better news to share. Big take-away is that no group is ‘safe’ any longer.”

Snopes reached out to USCIS for independent confirmation of that claim, and an official told us that USCIS was indeed reviewing the program and suggested that no decisions had yet been made and the agency had no plans to make any announcements about the policy at the time. We have not independently verified the claim that a U.S. government official told immigration lawyers the government indeed had set an end date for the program.

Joshua L. Goldstein, an L.A.-based immigration attorney who represents parole in place applicants, called the potential repeal “completely devastating” in an interview with Los Angeles magazine, which also noted that “Goldstein says his sources suggest that it will be repealed in about a month.”

Parole in place stems from a policy memo issued by the Obama administration in 2013, and the program was more explicitly detailed a year later. Calls for policies similar to those identified in the Obama-era memos had enjoyed some bipartisan support before those actions, and in 2010 then-Congressman Mike Pence had actively lobbied for protections similar to parole in place, as reported by The New York Times at the time:

18 members of the House, including nine Republicans, urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to make broader use of that measure and several others to “provide some relief” to active-duty soldiers with close relatives who did not have legal immigration status. The measures the lawmakers advocated are also proposed in the immigration agency’s memo, including the broader use of “deferred action,” a power that allows immigration authorities to cancel deportations.

Among the Republicans signing the letter were Representatives William M. Thornberry of Texas and Representative Michael R. Turner of Ohio, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as Representatives Mike Pence of Indiana and Sam Johnson of Texas.

In recent years, USCIS maintains, the program has been used sparingly on a case-by-case basis, but it is hard to judge the accuracy of that claim. In their reporting, McClatchy noted that “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.”

On July 8, 2019, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of whom are running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, issued a joint statement raising concern over the potential end of parole in place, citing NPR’s reporting. “Fundamentally,” they argued, “we believe that there is no public benefit to separating eligible military families.”