Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Thursday told reporters that members of the military currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will not face deportation.
Fewer than 850 DACA recipients are either on active duty or waiting to start boot camp, and Mattis said they will be able to stay in the country, the Associated Press reports.
"Right now in terms of the DACA situation, in other words, our guys on active duty, and that sort of thing or in the active delayed enlistment program, are not in any kind of jeopardy," Mattis said.
Mattis said DACA recipients on active duty, in the reserves, and those veterans who received an honorable discharge, would not be subject to deportation unless they have committed a felony or have been ordered out of the country by a federal judge.
"I'm not an expert on DACA, I'm an expert on military," he said. "I'll just tell you that someone who is on active duty, in the reserves—on active reserve or inactive reserve, you know, whatever their reserve status is—they are not subject to deportation unless they've committed a felony or a federal judge has ordered them out for some reason, in which case we have to obey the court order."
Mattis added that he does not know of any cases in which a service member has been ordered to leave the country.
"Anyone who is 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.
DACA service members are all people with a particular set of skills, such as being fluent in a key language, who came into the military through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program.
Mattis added the Department of Homeland Security has been cooperative with the military on such matters.
"We would always stand by one of our people, and I have never found the Department of Homeland Security unwilling to take any call from anyone on my staff if we, in fact, found someone who had been treated unjustly," Mattis said.
About 800,000 illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents are protected by the Obama-era executive action, which President Donald Trump announced he will phase out. Trump called on Congress to work out a deal that would secure the border and provide a solution for DACA, but no such deal has been reached.
DACA recipients outside the military will begin losing their protected status in March when permits will start expiring.