The Associated Press reported Thursday that immigrants who enlisted in the army through a special program that offers a chance at citizenship were either booted without a reason, classified as a security threat or had yet to have a completed background check.
Spokespeople for the Pentagon and Army cited pending litigation when asked by the AP to provide further detail regarding the discharges or to address whether there has been a policy change. The program allowed immigrants with critical language or medical skills who were in the USA temporarily, such as through student visas, or here seeking asylum, to enter the armed forces.
The program is restricted to legal immigrants with visas that provide them with lawful residency in the U.S. More than 5,000 were recruited into the program in 2016, while roughly 10,000 are now serving, according to the AP.
President George W. Bush ordered "expedited naturalization" for immigrant soldiers in 2002 and seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) became a formal program. Many were recruited to fill posts requiring medical expertise, including Army Reserve dentists, or specific language skills, including Russian and Mandarin Chinese, according to The Washington Post.
The program was scrutinized by Republicans after President Barack Obama allowed DACA recipients to enlist, and it was subsequently suspended under the Trump Administration.
Donald Trump's administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. In late 2017, hundreds of immigrant recruits in the middle of their enlistment process had their contracts canceled, and later it was announced that the immigrant recruitment program, MAVNI, would be canceled indefinitely.
Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, who has supported legislation to limit the program, told the AP that MAVNI was established by executive order and never properly authorized by Congress. "And restore the MAVNI program to its specialized, limited scope".
Immigrants must have legal status to enroll in the military, but now some fear that in addition to losing their military career they could lose their immigration status. Multiple discharged recruits who spoke to the AP did so anonymously, for fear of what will happen to them if they are deported and people find out they served in the USA military.
"In exchange for putting their lives on the line for our freedom, immigrants-legal immigrants that we have welcomed into our country have always been able to earn their citizenship".
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It is still unclear how many of those 40 enlistees were enlisted into the U.S. Army through its special recruitment program that promises a path to citizenship in exchange for service.
Non-U.S. citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, when Continental soldiers included Irish, French and Germans.
The Department of Defense recognized on its website that immigrants have been serving in the United States since 1775.
A path some immigrants take to gain citizenship is naturalization through military service.
Many service members recruited through the program have proven to be exemplary.
These immigrant reservists and recruits, however, were an "uncharacterized discharge", neither honorable nor dishonorable.
He said that on June 11, his recruiter called him and to say the 22-year-old will be discharged, despite the fact that he says he passed a military background check. The Pentagon and the Army aren't giving an explanation to the public, either.
The reservist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about her legal standing, said she received additional paperwork last month that indicated her case is awaiting a final decision. "I got into debt when I joined the Army because I can't work legally but, financially, I can't survive anymore".