Army temporarily stops discharging immigrant recruits

An estimated 10,000 immigrants are currently serving in the US Army as part of a program offering a path to citizenship. Coming a month after reports that dozens of enlistees were being discharged, the leaked memo ordering the reversal was the first official acknowledgment of the policy. 

Mike Knaak/AP
A 22-year-old Pakistani recruit who was recently discharged from the US Army holds an American flag as he poses for a picture on July 3, 2018. The US Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship.

The US Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship – at least temporarily.

A memo shared with The Associated Press on Wednesday and dated July 20 spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program, effective immediately.

It was not clear how many recruits were impacted by the action, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the memo.

"Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions," read the memo signed by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.

The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts cancelled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they'd been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Early last month, the Pentagon said there had been no specific policy change and that background checks were ongoing. And in mid-July the Army reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued. Attorneys sought to bring a class action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

A judge's order references the July 20 memo, and asks the Army to clarify how it impacts the discharge status of Calixto and other plaintiffs. As part of the memo, Mr. Williams also instructed Army officials to recommend whether the military should issue further guidance related to the program.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said Wednesday the memo proves there was a policy.

"It's an admission by the Army that they've improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers," she said. "The next step should be go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged."

Discharged recruits and reservists reached Wednesday said their discharges were still in place as far as they knew.

One Pakistani man caught by surprise by his discharge said he was filing for asylum. He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former US Army enlistee.

The reversal comes as the Defense Department has attempted to strengthen security requirements for the program, through which historically immigrants vowed to risk their lives for the promise of US citizenship.

Former President George W. Bush ordered "expedited naturalization" for immigrant soldiers after 9/11 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

It came under fire from conservatives when former President Barack Obama added DACA recipients – young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children – to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.

The Trump Administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process had their contracts canceled.

Government attorneys called the recruitment program an "elevated security risk" in another case involving 17 foreign-born military recruits who enlisted through the program but have not been able to clear additional security requirements. Some recruits had falsified their background records and were connected to state-sponsored intelligence agencies, the court filing said.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the US, such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the US military since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Defense Department.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.