Few Undocumented Immigrants Qualify for Military Exception Under New Rules

When President Barack Obama spoke in the Rose Garden announcing a new immigration policy last month, he referred to young undocumented immigrants who “are already making contributions,” such as “serving in our military, protecting us and our freedom.”

But few, if any, immigrants fall into this group.

In order to enlist, a person needs to be a citizen of the United States or a green card holder, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense. The military rigorously checks immigration and naturalization documents, she added, and if it discovers “that an enlistee has presented false documents, he/she is discharged for fraudulent enlistment.”

Additionally, non-citizens who served in the military after the September 11 attacks are eligible to naturalize and would not need to take advantage of the deferred action option.

The president’s appearance followed the Department of Homeland Security’s June 15 memo on deferred action, which outlined requirements under which undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children would be able to avoid deportation and get access to two-year work permits. It included the category of “honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.”

A DHS official said that even though “very few” people could qualify under this category, it was put in the memo “out of an abundance of caution … to ensure that individuals who may have fallen out of legal status during their military service” would be included.

Matthew Blaisdell, immigration attorney in New York, said someone who could potentially fit into the category would be a legal permanent resident, who was honorably discharged. If he later ended up in immigration proceedings due to a criminal conviction or charge of fraud in an immigration application, he could possibly qualify for deferred action.

Still, Blaisdell said, he expected “that this provision would benefit only a miniscule number of people.”

The administration’s decision to grant deferred action could provide relief from deportation to as many as 90,000 young undocumented immigrants in New York State, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis.

In order to qualify, they need to have come to the U.S. before they were 16, spent at least five years here, not be older than 31, not been convicted of a major crime, and meet education requirements.