As many as 11,800 currently serving in the U.S. military are dealing with a spouse or family member who is facing deportation, a national immigration advocacy group announced Friday.
No previous estimate, official or unofficial, has been available on just how many of the 1 million married military members currently on active duty, National Guard or Reserve status may be dealing with the stress of having a spouse, dependent or parent deported.
It’s also not a number that can be easily checked, or verified, because neither DoD, the Department of Homeland Security nor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracks military status in immigration proceedings.
American Families United, a non-profit immigration advocacy group, calculated the estimate using 2011 U.S. Census statistics, which found that 6.3 percent of the 129 million married Americans are married to foreign-born spouses. The Pew Research Center found that one in four of those foreign-born spouses are in the country illegally. About 75 percent of that population comes from countries like Mexico, where if they entered illegally, they have a harder time obtaining legal status, as opposed to a person from Europe who might have overstayed a visa, said American Families United President Randall Emery.
“So we derived the total of military (active and reserves) married to people with inadmissibility-type immigration issues by taking the total (1 million), multiplying by the national percentage of foreign-born (6.3 percent, so 63,000 current U.S. military are married to immigrants), and then the 25 percent of the total which have problems with immigration law: 15,750. Of that, Pew’s data indicates 75 percent are from sources characterized by entry without inspection and similar issues, that would be about 11,800,” Emery said.
While it may not be exact, AFU generated the military estimate to “create awareness and get some of these legislators who say they support the military to actually act on it” and recognize that this is a bigger military problem than previously thought, said Nancy Kuznetsov, the group’s military liaison.
That’s become more important in the last year, both Emery and Kuznetsov said, as President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a harder line on immigration enforcement.
“It used to be veterans we’d see more frequently,” Kuznetsov said. “We’re now seeing an uptick in active-duty people.”
While the active duty members themselves are protected — because in order to enlist a service member has to show proof that they are in the country legally — their undocumented spouses are not.
An earlier “parole in place” program that was previously championed by Vice President Mike Pence to give relief to military families is no longer being utilized due to stricter enforcement of deportation proceedings under Trump.
That’s meant more military families calling the group for assistance, Emery said.
“Recently, we’ve seen an increase in cases of both active-duty personnel and veterans who have been failed by immigration law,” Emery said. “These estimates give us perspective on the problem.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 61,094 people in fiscal year 2017, compared with 44,512 in fiscal year 2016, a 37 percent increase, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
Military Times has spoken to more than a dozen military families who reached out after hearing about 7th Special Forces Group veteran Bob Crawford and his wife Elia, who was facing deportation. After intense media interest, DHS dropped removal proceedings against her.
When asked, neither DoD, DHS nor ICE could say how many military families are facing deportation proceedings, because it’s not data they track or report,
While an ICE official said the agency “respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving U.S. military veterans,” the agency does not track military status in its removal statistics, the official said.
ICE referred queries on how many military families were facing removal proceedings to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review.
But that court “does not track military status among respondents or their spouses,” when prosecuting immigration cases, said spokesman Devin O’Malley, so there’s no way to know how many military family members were among those persons removed last year.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."