Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill called the "Military Families Parole In Place Act", S. 2797. An identical companion bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr. (D-Calif.), but isn't yet viewable on websites that show draft congressional legislation as of this writing.
The bills propose to oblige the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant immigration paroles, in one-year increments, to dependent family members of active-duty military, as well as of veterans who were not dishonorably discharged. Even if illegally in the United States, they would be allowed to stay, and if outside of the United States, the plain language of the bill would require their admission. The mandate is so stringent that DHS could not deny any alien such a parole except when the secretaries of DHS, Defense, and Veterans Affairs all concur and "jointly issue a written justification for the denial".
I grew up in a military family; my father was a career soldier and all of my siblings and I were born on various military posts. My friends were mostly army brats like me. For these reasons, as a general rule I'm favorably disposed to things that improve the lot of the military and their families. Even so, I believe that the language of these bills is deeply flawed. In fact, I suspect that couching the bills as a way of helping military and veterans is a smokescreen designed to circumvent the normal operation of America's immigration laws.
First, let me note that the definition of family is extensive, consisting of the spouse, widow or widower, parent, or child of actively serving armed forces members and veterans. I'm not sure why the foreign parents of, for example, a veteran who retired 10 years ago should be entitled to immigration parole. Yet the bills not only permit, but require it. Nothing stops that veteran from taking steps to petition to bring his family members to the United States as lawful residents, which is the way the immigration laws have been structured for many decades. In fact, this is true of serving armed forces members too. Why, then, establish this massive loophole?
And if you read it again carefully, you'll see that this mandated parole provision applies even to dead veterans — thus the widow and widower provisions. Is there any sense in that? Anyone else see the potential for abuse by so-called "widows" and "widowers" of ex-pat veterans who were living abroad for a period of time before they died?
Second, it seems to me that opening this avenue to all veterans who were "not dishonorably discharged" is also overbroad. Somewhere between honorable discharge and dishonorable discharge is the category "general discharge". The ground truth is that many people who have been generally discharged negotiate this arrangement with the military authorities after they find themselves facing charges that could result in dishonorable discharges or even time in the brig. It's the equivalent of a plea bargain for all sides that allows the charged individual to use it as an escape valve, while allowing the affected branch of the military to quickly dispose of a troublemaker or misfit whose presence was inimical to the good order and functioning of the service. Why should a generally discharged "veteran" be entitled to avail himself of such a parole as reward for poor conduct?
Third, this nonsense about requiring joint certifications of three cabinet-level secretaries to justify a denial virtually assures that pretty much anyone who jockeys him- or herself into position as a putative relative will gain entry to the United States via parole — including potentially many aliens with criminal histories. And what about aliens who might pose a different kind of security risk through terrorism or as agents of a hostile foreign government? If they aren't known to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, they're home free. We should not fool ourselves into believing that our security services are so all-seeing and all-knowing that the vetting process will inexorably weed such people out. It won't.
Fourth and finally, we should see the provisions of these bills for what they are: just another means of circumventing the ordinary function of the immigration system to enable large-scale movement of illegal aliens into the United States — after which, it would likely take dynamite to get them back out again. And when I say large-scale, I mean really large-scale.
Estimates of the size of the active-duty military as of 2017 (the most recent year I could find) varied from about 1.337 million to 1.41 million. It's not unreasonable, given the broad definition of family member, as described above, to calculate that the number of potential parole entrants from active-duty military alone to be somewhere around four times that many, calculating for spouses, children, and parents. So figure on about 5.5 million eligible aliens. But let's cut that figure in half just to be conservative, and say 2.25 million aliens.
Now calculate on top of that some figures for the pool of U.S. veterans floating out there. The Veterans Administration estimated the number of U.S. veterans at around 20.8 million in 2015; by 2018, that figure had risen to 21.369 million according to the Census Bureau. Using the same 4:1 ratio, we now potentially have another 85.476 million aliens the DHS secretary might be required to parole into the United States. Again, we'll cut that in half, to 42.738 million.
Putting active duty and veterans together, the conservative figure still amounts to nearly 45 million aliens. I want to emphasize "potentially entitled" because we don't actually know how many would see the benefit. Of course, advocates of the bill will say I'm stretching with those figures, but they don't know any better than I do.
What's more, it's entirely likely that through the rule of unintended consequences, the bill will actually result in all kinds of fraud because it will encourage aliens to approach soldiers and veterans offering them money or other inducements if they're amenable to going along with fake relationships using manufactured documents from many third world countries where verifying the authenticity of those documents will be exceptionally difficult — especially in places where registrars and other officials are open to bribes to custom produce these fake documents.
All in all, it seems to me that this bill, in both House and Senate versions, is a potential Trojan Horse.