Army Spokesperson Says Soldiers With Undocumented Spouses Are 'Harboring'

Army Spokesperson Says Soldiers With Undocumented Spouses Are 'Harboring'

"JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Margaret Stock is an immigration lawyer and a nationally known expert in military issues, and her phone has been ringing a lot lately.

MARGARET STOCK: There's been a lot of confusion about whether people are allowed to enlist in the military or not.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The calls are coming from people who are otherwise eligible to enlist but are married to immigrants who don't have papers.

STOCK: The military recruiters are now telling them they're not allowed to enlist in the military until their spouse has a lawful immigration status. And, of course, this can take years and years to sort out.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The Navy began barring applicants with unauthorized immigrant dependents four years ago. The Marine Corps and Army followed suit. Stock finds it surprising, though, because during that same period, federal immigration officials have been helping the undocumented spouses, children and parents of service members remain in the country legally. That was the policy formalized in a memo last month.

STOCK: That program obviates the need for any bar to enlistment. So it doesn't make any sense for them to be enforcing this rule now. It's almost as though the people doing this don't understand what's been going on out there.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Kathleen Welker, a spokeswoman for the Army Recruiting Command, confirmed the Army does bar applicants with undocumented dependents, though there isn't a formal written policy.

KATHLEEN WELKER: When an applicant shows that his dependents or her dependents do not have proper documentation, that's a red flag to a recruiter that the applicant is in this case harboring an illegal alien.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Welker says the reasoning is based on a federal statute that makes it a crime to harbor or conceal an unauthorized immigrant.

WELKER: And that means that the applicant then is breaking the law and may be subject to arrest. Well, that's not what we're about in the U.S. Army.

OMAR JADWAT: That is a totally untenable reading of the law. It's just wrong.

JOFFE-BLOCK: That's Omar Jadwat. He's an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrant Rights Project. He disagrees with the Army's interpretation, that living with undocumented immigrants counts as illegally harboring them.

JADWAT: Multiple federal courts of appeals have specifically rejected the notion that cohabitation with somebody who lacks immigration status is harboring." - Jude Joffe-Block, Dec. 16, 2013.