The approximately 800 service members whose military service was put in limbo by President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program will not be deported, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.
Congress has been at an impasse over DACA, which provides a protected status for some younger undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Mattis told reporters Thursday that he has finalized an agreement with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to put the military’s ”Dreamers” in a protected status.
“Anyone who is in the delayed enlistment program, in other words they are already signed up and they are waiting to go into boot camp, anyone on active duty and anyone in the active reserves and anyone with an honorable discharge is, right now, except for two possible exceptions, they will not be subject to any kind of deportation.”
“The only two exceptions would be if for some reason they have committed a serious felony, and I realize even a low-level felony apparently does not put you in that category ... that could jeopardize them. They are just like any other citizen,” Mattis said.
The other exception would be “if a federal judge has signed a final order of deportation — that would be a judicial action that obviously we obey,” Mattis said.
Mattis did not provide additional details on the agreement but said it was his understanding that DACA military service members were always protected.
“They’re protected,” Mattis said.
He also said he thinks the program will live on.
“I think that it is not coming to an end right now either,” Mattis said. “You can sign up right now, as I understand.”
In January a federal court issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Department of Homeland Security to resume accepting DACA applicants.
The controversy over DACA in Washington is fueled by Trump’s requirement that any agreement to extend DACA would include broader immigration policy changes, including a border wall. The issue split Congress to the extent that the government shut down over the issue in January.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.