The U.S. Army has begun discharging some immigrants who enlisted in the military with promises that their service would lead to U.S. citizenship, according to a report Thursday in The Associated Press.
Attorneys representing at least 40 people recruited through a program meant to attract talented enlistees — those with special language or medical skills — say their clients have been discharged or had their military status put into doubt in recent days. Some told the AP that they were given no reason why the discharges took place, while others said personal links to relatives living abroad led them to be labeled as security risks.
The AP could not confirm how many people had been discharged, and both the Pentagon and the Army declined to comment to AP.
The U.S. for years had allowed skilled immigrants with legal status to enlist under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, or MAVNI, and gain what President George W. Bush called “expedited naturalization” for their service. 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 Pentagon has added extra layers of security vetting in recent years, including extensive background checks, a review of more than 10 years of financial history and detailed interviews with relatives and neighbors, according to The New York Times. The measures, which began at the end of the Obama administration and were ramped up under Trump, have become so complicated that thousands of MAVNI recruits have been stuck in a backlog and unable to begin their service.
Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the MAVNI program, told the Times the uptick in discharges may be an effort to minimize that backlog.
The AP noted that about 10,000 people are currently serving under the program and that, in order to gain citizenship, enlistees must be honorably discharged. Some lawyers told AP, however, that the recruits removed from the Army were given neither an honorable nor dishonorable designation, but rather an “uncharacterized discharge.”
At least one, Lucas Calixto, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying he served for more than two years before he was unceremoniously kicked out even after recently earning a promotion in rank.
The Pentagon suspended MAVNI last fall and canceled the contracts for hundreds of recruits amid criticism that the program had grown too difficult to navigate due to increasingly detailed background checks, according to the Post.
Thursday’s report drew swift rebuke from those on both sides of the aisle who seized on it as the latest sign of the Trump administration’s effort to rein in access to immigration. The White House has drawn widespread fury over its zero tolerance immigration policy, which has led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. And the president recently celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold his travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority nations.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) called the recruitment report “yet another low” by the White House, pointing to generations of immigrants that had served in the Armed Forces who have “boosted our military’s ranks and defended our values.”
“This decision must be reversed now, for the sake of our military, to show that America keeps its word and to uphold the very values we claim to stand for,” Kasich said in a statement on Twitter.
This story has been updated to include further details about the MAVNI program’s security screening and processing backlog from a New York Times report.