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Green Cards for Military Spouses and Parents
Priority Bill Spotlight

The Protect Patriot Spouses and Protect Patriot Parents Acts would provide access to green cards and a pathway to citizenship for military spouses and parents

Tens of thousands of mixed-status military families live every day under the threat of separation, despite their service to and sacrifice for the United States. The Protect Patriot Spouses (H.R. 163) and Protect Patriot Parents (H.R. 454) Acts would would provide access to green cards for military spouses and parents, and ultimately a pathway to citizenship.

80,000 mixed-status military families
are at risk of separation
FWD.us estimates of undocumented spouses and parents of U.S. active duty and former service members living in the U.S. Methodology

80,000 military families at risk of separation

FWD.us strongly supports that Congress establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The undocumented population is made up of many families and individuals with diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and stories. One significant subset of that population is the mixed-status families of military service members and veterans who have proudly served our country in uniform.

According to FWD.us estimates, as many as 80,000 undocumented spouses and parents of U.S. active duty and former service members are living in the U.S. today. Among military spouses more specifically, the majority are female and 45 years of age or younger; nearly half are from Latin American countries, and about a third are from Asia. Fewer than 10,000 of these undocumented military spouses are temporarily protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS).2

Congress must pass broad immigration reform so undocumented immigrants, including essential workers, farm workers, DACA and TPS recipients, and military families can pursue a pathway to citizenship. The Protect Patriot Spouses and Parents Acts would be a positive first step, allowing tens of thousands of families to begin that process.

Alejandra's story shows harm of current law and promise of reform

Alejandra Juarez came to the United States from Mexico as a teenager and lived in the U.S. for two decades. Her husband is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. They have been married for 21 years and have two U.S.-citizen children.

Due to challenges with sponsoring family members who entered the U.S. without authorization, Alejandra was unable to secure lawful status in the U.S. Alejandra then applied multiple times for temporary relief from deportation so that she could stay with her family, but these requests were denied, and Alejandra was deported in 2018. Three years later, after persistent advocacy from Representative Darren Soto (D-FL) and her community, the Biden Administration granted Alejandra humanitarian parole to return and join her family in the United States.

Nobody should be distracted from their mission, fearing that their parents or siblings, or spouses will be arrested and deported.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), former Chair of the House Judiciary Committee "Immigration Needs of America's Fighting Men and Women," Hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, May 20, 2008.

Threat of separation hangs over mixed-status military families and harms military readiness

Alejandra’s story illustrates the acute threat of deportation and family separation hanging over millions of mixed-status families—i.e. those in which family members hold different immigration statuses, including that of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, individuals on temporary visas, asylees and refugees, and individuals who are undocumented.3

Being related to a U.S. veteran or a U.S. citizen typically carries little weight in immigration enforcement matters. The government is supposed to consider a history of military service for an individual who is charged with immigration violations, but that consideration does not extend to the individual’s immediate family members, and the standard has been inconsistently applied among immigrant veterans, too.

This uncertainty and fear harms military readiness: service members, particularly those deployed overseas, have to carry the fear and worry of their families being separated while they are serving, and may even have to leave their service to care for their loved ones. This was part of USCIS’ justification for formalizing discretionary protective measures in 2013.

During a 2008 hearing regarding “Immigration Needs of America’s Fighting Men and Women,” Representative John Conyers (D-MI), then the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, strongly affirmed: “Nobody should be distracted from their mission, fearing that their parents or siblings, or spouses will be arrested and deported. Nobody should have to go into combat fearing that if they are killed, their spouse will lose their ability to adjust to lawful status.”

Limited protections available for mixed-status military families

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers limited, discretionary protections to mixed-status military families. Individuals who entered the U.S. without authorization and who are the spouse, parent, or child of an active duty or former service member can apply for “parole in place,” a legal status that allows them to temporarily remain in the U.S. for one-year increments. This is the protection that was denied to Alejandra. If granted parole, individuals can apply for work authorization, and can also be considered to have been admitted lawfully for the purposes of applying for another immigration benefit (like a green card).4

In FY 2020, USCIS processed 6,287 applications for parole in place (not solely for military families), approving 4,967 (79% approval rate) with 2,184 pending after the last quarter.

The parole in place policy has received bipartisan support from leaders in Congress. However, as Alejandra’s experience illustrates, these protections are discretionary and awarded case by case, and the fear of a denial of protections and the resulting family separation could dissuade many eligible individuals from applying.

"These bills are a positive step that would provide Alejandra and members of other mixed-status military families a clearly defined pathway to citizenship"
Protect Patriot Spouses Act (H.R. 163)
Protect Patriot Parents Act (H.R. 454)

Congress should protect mixed status military families—passing the Protect Patriot Spouses and Protect Patriot Parents Acts would be a good start

Too often, immigrants who serve in the military and their families have not been protected or supported by immigration laws and policy. Some leaders in Congress are taking steps to address these challenges and provide access to green cards for military spouses and parents.

Representative Soto has introduced the Protect Patriot Spouses Act (H.R. 163), a bill that would allow spouses of service members to apply to become lawful permanent residents and receive a green card. The law would also waive certain inadmissibility requirements, including unlawful entry, unlawful presence, and certain documentary requirements.

The law also provides for eligible individuals who had been removed or who voluntarily departed the U.S. before the enactment of the law to apply from abroad for a green card, or to return to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa while waiting to adjust status and secure a green card.

Representative Salud Carbajal (D-CA) has introduced a nearly identical bill, the Protect Patriot Parents Act (H.R. 454), to allow parents of service members to apply for a green card or to return to the U.S. if they had previously departed or been removed.

These bills are a positive step that would provide members of mixed-status military families, like Alejandra and tens of thousands of others, a clearly-defined pathway to citizenship, and the certainty that they can stay safe and together with their families in the United States.

We urge Congress to honor the service and sacrifice of military families by passing the Protect Patriot Spouses Act, and to continue working to create a full pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today. This will help keep our nation, our communities, and American families strong..

Get in touch with us:

Andrew Moriarty

Deputy Director of Federal Policy

Notes

  1. Undocumented spouses of current U.S. armed forces service members or those who previously served in U.S. armed forces. For more information on how FWD.us estimates the undocumented immigrant population, including assumptions for mixed-status families, please see this complete methodology. Estimates for parents of current or previous U.S. armed forces service members leaned on the August 2020 Current Population Survey’s veteran module, combined with data on place of birth of parents for respondents.
  2. These military families are a small subset of millions of mixed status families in the United States that live every day with the fear of family separation. FWD.us estimates that some 1.7 million undocumented immigrants have a U.S.-citizen spouse, while 2.6 million undocumented immigrants have U.S. citizen children. Without Congress passing meaningful immigration reform , these families’ opportunities to adjust status will remain extremely limited.
  3. During the Trump Administration, when Alejandra was forced to leave her family, all immigrants who were undocumented were prioritized for deportation. The Biden Administration has narrowed these priorities, but anyone in the U.S. who is undocumented faces the risk of deportation.
  4. Individuals who entered the U.S. lawfully but are now undocumented do not qualify for parole in place, but they are eligible for other short-term forms of relief such as deferred action, which can be granted for up to two-year increments. Individuals with deferred action can apply for work authorization, but need to demonstrate economic necessity. Unlike parole, deferred action does not count as a legal status, so individuals may have difficulty securing basic services, such as a driver’s license or healthcare benefits. USCIS does not report numbers on grants of deferred action aside from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
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