ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary James Mattis said today he got assurances from the Department of Homeland Security that DREAMers in the military and veterans would not be subject to deportation, regardless of whether the program expires without a Congress lifeline next month.
About 900 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children currently serve in the Armed Forces under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. When he canceled DACA last year, President Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative solution to save some 800,000 DACA beneficiaries from being deported.
Mattis told reporters today that he’d spoken with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and though “we have been through this in great detail before” it was “a confirming call about anyone who’s in the delayed enlistment program.”
“In other words, they’re already signed up and they’re waiting to go into boot camp, anyone on active duty, 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,” he said.
“The only two exceptions would be if for some reason they committed a serious felony, and I realize even a low-level felony apparently is not — doesn’t put you into that category. It’s got to be a serious one. Completely separate from the military service, obviously, that could jeopardize them, OK? They’re just like any other citizen in terms of they’re responsible for anything that they — any misbehavior proven in a court of law.”
The other exception, he added, “would be if a federal judge has signed I think it’s called a final order of deportation or something.”
“That would be a judicial action that obviously we obey. In a court system, we don’t have veto authority over a court. Those, I’m not even aware of a case like that. But right now, in terms of the DACA situation, in other words our guys on active duty and that sort of thing.”
Mattis confirmed “it’s clarified” that DACA service members “are not in any kind of jeopardy.”
He noted that DHS has always been willing to cooperate with the Defense Department “if we, in fact, found somebody who had been treated unjustly.”
“The challenge goes back many years, is what I’m told, where we’ve had some people who have been in or something and something’s happened,” he explained. “But what I wanted to do first of all is make certain we don’t have any more problems from it.”
Mattis said he’s been on troop visits “where there are people there who were caught under the DACA concern.”
“They’re protected. I think that it is not coming to an end, either. You can sign up right now, as I understand. Now I’m not an expert on DACA, I’m an expert on military. I’ll just tell you that someone who is on active duty, on active reserve or inactive reserve, whatever the Reserve status is, they are not subject to deportation unless they committed a felony or a federal judge has ordered them out for some reason, in which case we have to obey the court order,” he said. “…If they have an honorable discharge, they are still protected.”