Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday announced a policy to consider the U.S. military service of an illegal immigrant or their family members when considering whether to deport them from the country.
The policy formalizes a directive issued last month and tells officials to consider any service in the U.S. military by an immigrant or their immediate family members, before taking an enforcement action such as a deportation.
Military service includes the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard, including their reserve components.
The guidance says the agents should not initiate deportations against those who are eligible for citizenship due to their service, or take deportation actions against those who are currently serving. It also instructs staff to ask immigrants in interviews whether they have served, are serving, or if their family members have or are serving in the military.
It does not exclude immigrants from being deported if they are serving or have served in the military, but the guidance says that service is “a significant mitigating factor that weighs against taking enforcement action.”
Military service has long been recognized by ICE as a potential consideration when weighing possible immigration enforcement proceedings — but the directive formalizes it as agency policy.
“ICE values the incredible contributions of noncitizens who have served in the U.S. military,” acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said in a statement. “Through this directive, ICE will consider U.S. military service by a noncitizen or their immediate family members when determining whether to take civil immigration enforcement decisions against a noncitizen.”
The Biden administration has been limiting ICE agents and officers scope for enforcing immigration law. Directions last year focused ICE on three main categories of an illegal immigrant: recent border crossers, national security threats and threats to public safety.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security also limited the areas in which ICE can work, barring ICE from carrying out enforcement operations at churches, schools, hospitals and other places deemed sensitive.
Under the new policies, deportations have plummeted during the Biden administration. In FY 2021, ICE deported 59,011 people, down from 185,884 in FY 2020 and 267,258 in FY 2019.