Immigration Reform and the Military

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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy

Jesus D. Mendez Carbajal, Project YANO Intern:

Under the Obama administration there have been more than two million deportations to date, an average of 1,100 people every day, which is a higher rate than that for any other president in the history of the United States. More than 100,000 of those have come from California. Deportations have been facilitated in California via the implementation of the Secure Communities policy in 2009, which established the sharing of the fingerprint database between local law enforcement and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

The proposed immigration reform bill’s halt and continued deportations have sparked community organizers and activists nationwide to mobilize and stage several nonviolent civil disobedience actions calling for the stopping of all deportations and the shutdown of ICE.

On June 15, 2012, the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. With this step, the first group of undocumented migrants -- migrant youths -- was temporarily protected from deportation. Then, on November 15, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), released a policy memorandum known as “parole in place.” This allows for a case-by-case discretionary exemption from deportation for undocumented dependents (i.e., children, spouse and/or parents) of members of the armed forces and military veterans.

Currently all immigration requests must be made from outside the U.S., usually from the home country of the immigrant. However, if an undocumented person leaves the U.S., they are barred from returning for a set number of years, which places them farther behind in the visa waiting line. Essentially, “parole in place” authorizes the person petitioning to remain in the U.S. and apply for legal residency and eventual citizenship/naturalization.

Up to now there is no projected number of people who could potentially benefit from this USCIS/DoD policy but there could be many thousands. The implication of this policy is that immigrants and citizens with undocumented dependents, who live with economic hardship and face push-out efforts in the educational system, will be more likely to join the military because the “reward” for joining could be a path to residency and eventual legalization for immediate undocumented family members.

The DoD and USCIS claim that the purpose for “parole in place” is to reduce the “stress and anxiety [that military personnel face] because of the immigration status of their family members.” This is a valid reason, but it is problematic that this same concern is not considered when U.S. citizen children who are NOT in the military are separated from their undocumented parents or family members – their main providers – who are deported.

The DoD and USCIS also assert that that they have a “commitment [to their enlistees] that begins at enlistment, and continues as they become veterans.” However, many veterans from past and current wars are seeing a delay in their benefits and experience discrimination on different levels. Some veterans are still waiting for their benefits for fighting in the Vietnam War. Veterans also experience high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as high unemployment and homeless rates. The evidence suggests a lack of true commitment to veterans, an important consideration for immigrants and others hoping to improve the lives of their families by enlisting.

Another bill, House Resolution 435 (introduced in January 2013), would allow youths who are granted temporary protection from deportation under DACA to gain permanent residency and eventual citizenship if they join the armed forces. This proposal reflects the Pentagon’s very real concern that their potential enlistee population will decrease in coming years with the improving economy. If HR 435 is signed into law, it would militarize even more immigrant families.

It is crucial to critically analyze the connections and implications of such memoranda and proposed policies and see through the thinly veiled agenda of military-driven decisions.

Information sources: New York Times, “Immigrants Closely Tied to Military Get Reprieve, 11/16/2013; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,, Parole in Place Memo; Draft NOtices, “The Military Enlistment Opportunity Act: a New Kind of Draft?”, October-December 2013.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (