Parole in Place: What it is and what it isn’t

Another day, and yet another story about immigration policy with commentators who ignore the facts, overreact, and fling the dreaded “amnesty” word around without sufficient research.

Let me take the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about the “Parole in Place” available for certain close relatives of U.S. service members and veterans.

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Parole in place is not a new program and it is certainly not “amnesty.”  The administration has merely issued a Policy Memorandum that clarifies an existing policy that carries out a law duly enacted by Congress.  This policy, known as “Parole in Place,” is grounded in the statutory parole authority given to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  That law allows the Executive Branch to issue immigration paroles, including paroles in place, and the immigration agencies have been issuing such paroles for decades.  The existing military immigration parole policy—started under the Bush Administration when Michael Chertoff was the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security—allows some undocumented relatives of U.S. military members and veterans to stay in the U.S. lawfully while they pursue green cards. 

The new Policy Memorandum merely ensures that this existing law is applied consistently by USCIS employees to U.S. military family members.  Such consistency has been lacking because agency employees previously had no written guidance from headquarters with regard to what family members were subject to the policy.  This lack of guidance resulted in errors, so that, for example, the Nebraska USCIS field office denied parole in place to the wife of a disabled Iraqi war veteran and member of the Nebraska National Guard in the mistaken belief that the National Guard is not part of the Army.  The memo will reduce such errors by agency employees.

The memo also explicitly acknowledges the value of the policy: Our nation’s broken legal immigration system has caused harm to our military.  Military members suffer emotional distress and related stress because they are terrified that their family members might be deported while they are serving our country.

As a retired Army Reservist and veteran who has testified before Congress about the harm caused to our military by the broken immigration system, I am grateful that USCIS has taken steps to ensure that the families of our nation’s active-duty service members, reservists, and veterans are treated fairly.

My fellow military members have served our country selflessly and courageously and it seems only right and just that their spouses, children, and parents will be allowed to stay in the U.S. and pursue legal residency here.  They won’t be forced to leave the country and potentially be trapped overseas for years—often in dangerous places—before being allowed to return. 

The Policy Memorandum does not change the law.  Family members must meet all the requirements for legal status; the memo merely clarifies that they can stay in the United States while they apply for their status.  I applaud USCIS for using existing laws to reduce the stress on military members and veterans.  It is only right that our government adopts such common sense legal remedies in the immigration arena, as it has done with other areas of the law.  Parole in place is not “amnesty” any more than other laws that provide relief to military members, such as the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act or laws that provide special tax treatment for military members and their families. Our country depended on these service members and veterans to defend our nation and they need stability at home.

There are enough burdens that members of our military take on when they join.  Parole in place is an important way that our country, for years, has helped alleviate some of the immigration law challenges some of them face.

Stock is a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Army Reserve and an immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska.  She was awarded a 2013 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for her work at the crossroads of immigration law and national security.