Concern Grows Over Plan To Scale Back Program That Protects Military Families From Deportation
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Now a follow-up to a recent story - last month, NPR broke the news of the Trump administration's plan to scale back the program protecting military family members here illegally from deportation. Today, NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez brings us the stories of some of the service members who could be affected by this change.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thirty-year-old Enoch Orona is in the Navy and could be deployed at any time. But he's less worried about combat than returning home and his mother not being there. President Trump promised major immigration sweeps would soon start if Congress can't tighten asylum rules. Orona worries about men with guns surrounding his parents' home, looking for his mother. She entered the country illegally 35 years ago.
ENOCH ORONA: It'd be like my world crashing down, you know, if I come back home to find out that, you know, my mother has been deported. You know, she's been pretty much my support this entire time. She supported my dream of going into the military when I was younger. She supported me when I was on deployment.
ORDOÑEZ: Orona, who is a citizen, is a U.S. Navy petty officer. He hoped his military status would protect his mother. His lawyer told him she qualifies for a program designed to protect the families of service members and veterans from being deported. But now, as the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigration, the program is under threat. Margaret Stock is Orona's immigration attorney.
MARGARET STOCK: I think most people can imagine what it would feel like if you were fighting for your country overseas and at the same time, the government that's employing you in battle is trying to deport your family.
ORDOÑEZ: The program is called Parole In Place. An official with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Parole is supposed to be used on a case-by-case basis when there is an urgent humanitarian need or a significant public benefit. Lewis Ramos is an operation specialist in the Army National Guard. He already had his deployment orders to a combat zone when he heard immigration sweeps would likely include Chicago, where he lives with his mother and family.
LEWIS RAMOS: I do not want to cause anybody to lose their life because I'm thinking I'm home. But in times off or a time when I would, like, get homesick, it would really hit me hard.
ORDOÑEZ: Ramos is lucky. He just learned from his lawyer that his mother would receive the protection by the time he will deploy next month. The possibility of ending Parole In Place has turned into a campaign issue. Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand vowed to fight for the program. Other senators are also concerned, including Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth. She said it's a national security issue if a soldier is distracted.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: He's going to be focused on his family. He's not going to be focused on his job, which puts him in danger, puts his squad in danger, puts his unit in danger of attack.
MARIA TERESA ORONA: (Speaking Spanish).
ORDOÑEZ: That's Orona's mom, Maria Teresa. She says there are many people like her who live day by day unsure whether they'll be arrested. She says her family, her church, her life is in the United States. She hasn't been back to El Salvador in 35 years. For now, Enoch Orona tries to keep his mom up to date on the news.
E. ORONA: We talk literally every single day even if it's just to say hi or to see how you're doing or just to talk. That is one relationship that if we're all separated, it'd just be horrible. It'd be very painful.
ORDOÑEZ: Orona hopes to soon get a call from the U.S. government saying his mom will be safe.
Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "SERENADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.