Undocumented immigrant family members of U.S. service members will not be exempt from deportation under the Republican-backed measure passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 4.
The bill, which passed after a largely partisan vote of 219 to 197, is intended to circumvent President Obama's order last month to defer deportations of illegal immigrant parents of millions of U.S. citizens and green card holders and allow undocumented spouses and children of citizens and legal residents to "parole in place" – or remain in the U.S. while applying for legal status.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Florida, sought to amend the Republican bill to exempt some specific groups, including families of American service members.
"Is parole in place for military families such an abuse of power?" Murphy asked on the House floor. "Surely, the majority of this House wants our brave men and women serving on the battlefield to be able to focus on the mission and not fear that their families will be taken from them.
"The slogan 'support our troops' at least must mean that."
But Murphy's amendment, which also would have exempted Cuban refugees and victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, failed to muster enough votes.
The bill itself still must pass in the Senate.
But the threat of military families being separated over immigration policy is not coming only from Republican members of the House.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a departure from past practice, is now requiring dependents of foreign-born doctors and others specially recruited into the military to return to their home countries once the service member officer becomes a U.S. citizen.
That means the family members must leave the U.S. for two years before applying to come back in – a process that, on average, is taking about 18 months, according to Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and retired Army Reserve officer.
Stock said most of the recruits were given Army commissions to continue service in the Army Reserve and fulltime for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Christopher S. Bentley, chief of media relations at USCIS, said that there is nothing new about the agency's policy and that, as far as he knows,
As far as he knows, dependents have always been required to leave the U.S. for the mandatory two-year period.
He said USCIS officials are now looking at how the policy may be changed to accommodate these families.
"It's being reviewed so we can see what kind of remedy it needs," he said. It may be something the agency can affect through a regulatory change, or it may require legislative action by Congress.
"But right now the law is clear. This [sending dependents home] is what has to happen," he said.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com