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High Praise From US Military Members and Immigration Advocates for ‘Policy In Place’

army.jpgLast November, a change in America’s immigration policy was implemented by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director which allows the undocumented family members of US military personnel to escape deportation. The change in policy is essentially a policy in and of itself that carries the unconventionally lengthy title “Parole of Spouses, Children and Parents of Active Duty Members of the US Armed Forces, the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, and Former Members of the US Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve and the Effect of Parole on Inadmissibility under Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(a)(6)(A)(i)”.

The short version of the policy title is “Parole in Place” and it is at its core a provision of parole status and authorization for those undocumented family members to be able to stay in the US and according to reports took three years from inception to the issuance of the policy. With the policy in place now for almost a full year, the US Department of Homeland Security now has the authority to grant entry to noncitizens temporarily and on a case-by -case basis. The decisions to grant parole for each individual case are to be based on “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

What Parole Authority Entails

For Homeland Security, having the authority to grant parole involves authorization to allow undocumented citizens to come into the United States at a specific border station, airport, or other official point of entry. Additionally, DHS has the authority to confer parole status to undocumented individuals who are already living in the country illegally. The latter provision is the crux of the meaning of “parole in place”.

From an historical standpoint, there have been several different kinds of situations in which parole has been implemented, particularly before the Refugee Act was passed. Prior to this, parole was effectively the means by which people who were fleeing persecution in their own countries could come into the United States. The purpose of the policy change that was implemented last November is to provide a much needed service for those current armed forces members as well as veterans who have “sacrificed for and served the country”.

Policymakers have stated that servicemen and women who have undocumented family members living in the US experience a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress because of the status of those family members. As such, they say, military preparedness and ultimately execution of duty are significantly compromised and adversely affected when US Armed Forces personnel have to carry such a heavy burden of worry about their loved ones.

The idea that prompted the policy to begin its journey toward implementation in 2010 was that the Department of Homeland Security needed to identify “tools” that would allow it to assist those dependent upon certain military personnel to “secure permanent immigration status in the United States as soon as possible.” According to the Department Secretary at the time, Parole in Place was identified as a means of minimizing the length of time that military personnel and their family members are separated from one another as well as to make a provision for adjusting the status of immigrants who are already living in the US and who have active or veteran family members.

Uncertainty About Parole in Place Among DHS Insiders

Despite the fact that those at the highest levels of Homeland Security have made the policy and its purpose clear, several offices within the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have expressed doubt about granting Policy in Place to family members of particular servicemen and women actively serving in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, in any branch of the Armed Forces, or veterans of the US military.

When the policy was granted to family members of military members and veterans, there were questions among individuals within the USCIS and other relevant departments about whether or not the DHS had the legal power to allow status to be adjusted for individuals based on the Policy in Place. This instability among officials within these offices resulted in inconsistencies in how the policy was executed and it was ultimately determined by the USCIS that clarification of the policy was necessary and that clarification should come in the form of a policy memorandum.

The problem with the clarification memorandum was that it was announced to the USCIS offices before it was actually issued. Subsequently, while the clarification was being drafted, most offices of the USCIS put applications for PIP-based status adjustments on hold until the final memorandum was issued. Since the announcement about the adjustment was made when the initial policy was implemented in 2010, several US service members and their loved ones have been waiting for the last several years to have their applications processed and to get word of their status.

Because so many applicants were forced to wait for so long for their status approval, many military personnel had their security clearances revoked and became unable to advance their respective military careers which also played a significant role in negatively impacting the morale of the service members and their “readiness to serve”.

A Long Wait Comes to an End

With the passage of the policy clarification last November – which for all intents and purposes became a new policy in and of itself – the waiting for those service members and their families finally came to an end. That is not to say, of course, that all of the applicants have been approved for Policy in Place or that all of those who are still waiting will receive approval, but it does mean that the wheels of the approval process are back in motion. PIP has been confirmed by the USCIS as a “discretionary remedy” and that approvals essentially amount to a “cure” for those servicemen and women who have served the United States and needed the assurance of the citizenship status of their family members.