Immigration Benefits of Military Families May Be Ending

Erick Widman

The White House has announced a major change to a current program that serves to protect military families in the US. This change could affect thousands of families and attorneys nationwide are urging those who might be eligible for the program to apply now, while they still can.

Since 2013, the Executive branch has recognized an immigration policy called “Parole in Place” which protects spouses, parents, sons, and daughters of current or former US military service members who are in the US but initially entered without inspection.

Parole in Place, or PIP, grants close family members of those serving in the military to remain in the US without fear of deportation, despite the fact that they initially entered unlawfully. The program was designed to reduce hardship for military families and ensure that spouses and other close family members will not be removed from the country while their husband, wife, adult child, or parent is deployed.

Yesterday, an NPR report announced that President Trump intends to scale back this program and possibly terminate it completely within a matter of weeks. This policy update aligns with similar efforts the President is making to sever the connection between the military and citizenship, including increasing the number of days an immigrant must be in active duty before they are eligible to file to become a US citizen.

As it currently stands, immediate family members may apply for PIP by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This application, once approved, authorizes a temporary stay of one year in the US. This application may be renewed for additional years, or the individual may apply to adjust their status as a parolee and eventually obtain a green card. When Parole in Place is authorized, the foreign national is issued an I-94 record which recognizes their legal presence in the US. Those with any record of legal presence in the US and an immediate relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident have a route toward permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship.

Who is Eligible for Parole in Place?

Parole in Place can be granted to foreign nationals who entered the US unlawfully, but are the spouse, parent, son, or daughter of a current or former member of the US military. Applicants must meet the following criteria to receive this immigration benefit, and they are approved on a discretionary basis:

  • You are physically present in the US and entered without inspection and without a visa;
  • You do not have a criminal conviction or other serious disqualifying factor; and
  • You are the spouse, parent, son, or daughter (any age) of
    • an Active Duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces,
    • someone in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or
    • someone who previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

This program is not an option for people who have entered the US with a visa but have overstayed it. It is one of the very few options that exist for immigrants who did not have a legal entry to the US but are dedicated to their community and the country and do not want to be separated from their family.

How to Apply?

To apply for PIP, you must provide the following:

  • Evidence of your family relationship to the service member, such as a birth certificate or marriage certificate;
  • Evidence of your family member’s military service;
  • Evidence of your family member’s US citizenship or permanent resident status;
  • Proof of identity (passport, birth certificate, or ID);
  • Two (2) passport photos;
  • Evidence of any merits or other favorable factors, such as
    • Military awards of the service member;
    • Awards or certificates of the applicant;
    • Proof of enrollment in education, community service, religious, or volunteer programs
  • Certified disposition of any criminal records
    • Legal counsel can determine if records are disqualifying.

Should you take action?

The application for Parole in Place does not require a filing fee, so there is little risk in applying. Approval is not guaranteed, as this program is highly discretionary and favors families with ties to their community and strong individual merits. Parole in Place is one of the only options available to undocumented members of the community and is an important way to protect military families. If the program is cancelled, immediate relatives of US citizen or permanent resident military members will not have any protection from deportation or a path toward gaining legal status in the future.

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