The nine-page memorandum is the latest in a series of immigration policy changes made by President Barack Obama since he took office. The department has long had the power to stop deportations for relatives of military members and veterans, but Friday’s memo lays out how and when it can be used.
The latest order gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials the power to “parole in place” immigrant spouses, children and parents of current U.S. service members, reservists and veterans. The change means that those immigrants can apply to legally live in the United States.
Margaret D. Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and retired Army reserve lieutenant colonel, said the latest directive would likely impact thousands of military families. “It is very significant,” Stock said. “It will ease the strain on so many families and military members.”
Peter Boogaard, a Homeland Security Department spokesman, said the policy change would help “reduce the uncertainty our active duty and retired military personnel face because of the immigration status of their family members.”
James Swartout, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military appreciates the clarification on how immigrant family members of service members are to be treated.
Obama is relying more often on making relatively minor administrative changes to America’s complicated immigration system, as the likelihood dims that Congress will overhaul the law. He pledged twice as a presidential candidate to pass immigration reforms.
Obama’s changes initially were broad and controversial. He instructed the government to use its discretion to find and deport only the most serious criminals. Then, in mid-2012, he announced a plan to offer young immigrants in the country illegally a reprieve from deportation and work permits for at least two years.
Now, as it appears less likely that Congress will change immigration laws, the White House is chipping away at the edges with relative minor procedural changes.