Almost 8% of the U.S. military is foreign-born, illustrating the vital role immigrants play in the military today. Nearly 13% of them are undocumented immigrants working towards legal immigration status while in the military, and people of all backgrounds within the military have immigrants in their families.
Stress about the possibility of deportation, problems with visiting family members at home and other issues can become consuming issues for servicemembers who can’t be there for their families while they’re out on deployment, and that’s why the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has implemented an important change to immigration policy.
Now, military spouses, parents, and children can rest easy: they are exempt from deportation, enjoying protections similar to those offered to students under the DREAM Act. Reporting at Colorlines, Aura Bogado notes that: “The new rules outlined in the nine-page document apply on a case-by-case basis, and those relatives accused or convicted of criminal charges are not guaranteed relief.” These distinctions are important, highlighting the fact that not everyone may meet the standard, and some military families may need to pursue other routes to address worries about deportation.
Meanwhile, for those in the United States who don’t fit under these guidelines or meet DREAM Act standards, deportation is still the default. Reactions to the DHS announcement have been mixed, highlighting the fact that it is far from a fix to the problems the United States is facing in the realm of immigration reform.
On the one hand, the policy shift protects a new group of immigrants, offering relief that keeps more people out of the detention system and keeps families together. That’s good for immigrants and good for the United States in the long term, as it promotes positive attitudes about the nation and increases efficiency. The system also allows the DHS to roll out more functional, humane approaches to lack of immigration documentation on a smaller scale, to allow it to test and refine the way it addresses requests from people applying for relief.
On the other hand, some advocates argue it doesn’t go far enough. Numerous immigrants who need help now won’t benefit directly from these policy changes, and may not experience relief for months or years. This exposes them to the risk of deportation and other penalties, which could put them in dangerous situations in their nations of origin, or their parents’ nations of origin. Comprehensive immigration reform that resolved these issues decisively would make for fast action and halt all deportations, not just those occurring among certain social groups, which would create obvious advantages.
Ultimately, incremental reform of this nature may be what paves the path to comprehensive reform. While it’s frustrating for those who can’t access these benefits yet, it creates test cases, illustrates that immigration reform has benefits for the nation as a whole, and eases political resistance. Anti-immigration sentiment is easier to defuse when immigration reform is conducted incrementally, allowing proponents to slowly but steadily push through changes to benefit their communities.
For now, the families of military members will be safer, and that is a step in the right direction when it comes to making the United States as a whole a better place for immigrants and their loved ones.
Photo Credit: Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office.