Mattis says U.S. service members in DACA will generally not be deported

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that service members in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program will not be deported, other than a few exceptions, even as lawmakers debate the fate of children brought to the United States illegally.

Until now, the fate of about 800 service members in the program had not been clear.

"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," he told reporters.

He added that the only exception was if the service member had committed a "serious" felony or a federal judge had signed deportation orders.

18 PHOTOS
Faces of those impacted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
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Faces of those impacted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Paulina, 26, a DACA recipient, is comforted after watching U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. Paulina, a graduate of UCLA, arrived in the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She said the decision was really upsetting but she was going to continue to work to push members of Congress to enact a law to protect their rights. "We are not going to give up", she said. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
Young DACA recipients, Mario, Melanie and Luis, watch U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, CHIRLA spokesman and Communications Director (R), along with staff and young DACA recipients watches U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: A family fills out an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), at a workshop on February 18, 2015 in New York City. The immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York holds weekly workshops to help immigrants get legal status under DACA to work in the United States. An expansion of the national program, scheduled for this week, was frozen by a ruling from a Texas federal judge. The Obama Administration plans to appeal the ruling and, if sussessful, DACA would allow legalization of up to two million immigrants who entered the United States before they were age 16. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: People attend an orientation class in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Mitzi Pena, 19, (R) her sister Yaretzi Pena, 5, and her cousin Karina Terriquez, 20, (L) wait in line to receive assitance in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: People attend an orientation class in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Edgar Lopez shows his Employment Authorization Card, at home in Davenport, Florida, February 1, 2013. Edgar and his brother Javier are among the 1.7 million estimated illegal immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children and are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Oscar Barrera Gonzalez along with a group of immigrants, known as DREAMers, hold flowers as they listen to a news conference to kick off a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Roberto Larios, 21, (R) holds Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival application as he waits in line with hundreds of fellow undocumanted immigrants at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Brenda Robles, 20, (R) holds her high school diploma as she waits in line with her friends at at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Hundreds of people line up around the block from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Undocumented UCLA students Alejandra Gutierrez (L) and Miriam Gonzales attend a workshop for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. President Barack Obama's administration announced on June 15 it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work. The changes went into effect on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Alan Valdivia receives assistance in filling out paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
People fill out paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June.REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Students wait in line for assistance with paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Undocumented UCLA students prepare paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. President Barack Obama's administration announced on June 15 it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work. The changes went into effect on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Paulina, 26, a DACA recipient during U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. Paulina, a graduate of UCLA, arrived in the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She said the decision was really upsetting but she was going to continue to work to push members of Congress to enact a law to protect their rights. "We are not going to give up", she said. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
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Mattis said the move applies to immigrants who had already signed up for the military or were waiting to go into boot camp, as well as veterans who had received an honorable discharge.

President Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 promising tougher rules for immigration. In September, he said he was ending the DACA program created by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, effective in March, unless Congress came up with a new law.

The program protects about 700,000 people, mostly young Hispanic adults, from deportation and provides work permits.

Lawmakers have struggled to reach a deal on an immigration bill, despite broad public support for helping Dreamers.

Trump has said any immigration deal must include billions of dollars to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

23 PHOTOS
President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
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President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
A border patrol officer stands next to some of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Federal agents patrol next to U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Seven of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Two of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion behind the current border fence, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Three of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is shown in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People (R) work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
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(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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