US Army discharging immigrant recruits and reservists

 

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army said that, due to the pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there had been policy changes in any of the military branches.

Some immigrant U.S Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.Some immigrant U.S Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned. (Reuters)

Some immigrant US Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.

The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment programme have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardising their futures.

«It was my dream to serve in the military,» said reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who filed a lawsuit against the Army last week. «Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military.»

Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged.

Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they’d been labelled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army said that, due to the pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there had been policy changes in any of the military branches.

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 programme in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Most go the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.

To become citizens, the service members need an honourable service designation, which can come after even just a few days at boot camp. But the recently discharged service members have had their basic training delayed, so they can’t be naturalised.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment programme, said she’s been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged.

All had signed enlistment contracts and taken an Army oath, Stock said. Many were reservists who had been attending unit drills, receiving pay and undergoing training, while others had been in a «delayed entry» programme, she said.

«Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,» Stock said. «We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.»

The AP interviewed Calixto and recruits from Pakistan and Iran, all of whom said they were devastated by their unexpected discharges.

«Now the great feeling I had when I enlisted is going down the drain,» said Calixto, 28. «I don’t understand why this is happening.»

In hopes of undoing the discharge, he filed a lawsuit in Washington DC, last week alleging the Defense Department hadn’t given him a chance to defend himself or appeal. He said he was given no specific grounds other than «personal security.»

Calixto, who lives in Massachusetts and came to the US when he was 12, said in an email interview arranged through his attorney that he joined the Army out of patriotism.

In the suit, Calixto said he learned he was being kicked out soon after he was promoted to private second class.

An Iranian citizen who came to the US for a graduate degree in engineering told the AP that he enlisted in the programme hoping to gain medical training. He said he had felt proud that he was «pursuing everything legally and living an honourable life.»

In recent weeks, he said, he learned that he’d been discharged.

«It’s terrible because I put my life in the line for this country, but I feel like I’m being treated like trash,» he said. «If I am not eligible to become a US citizen, I am really scared to return to my country.»

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of those fears.

It’s unclear how the service members’ discharges could affect their status as legal immigrants.

In a statement, the Defense Department said, «All service members (ie contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honourable discharge are protected from deportation.»

However, immigration attorneys told the AP that many immigrants let go in recent weeks were an «uncharacterised discharge,» neither dishonourable nor honourable.

The service members affected by the recent discharges all enlisted in recent years under a special programme aimed at bringing medical specialists and fluent speakers of 44 sought-after languages into the military. The idea, according to the Defense Department, was to «recognise their contribution and sacrifice.»

President George W Bush ordered «expedited naturalisation» for immigrant soldiers in 2002 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest programme, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting programme.

It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients – young immigrants who were brought to the US illegally – 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 cancelled. A few months later, the military suspended MAVNI.

Non-US citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, when Continental soldiers included Irish, French and Germans.

The US recruited Filipino nationals to serve in the Navy in the 1940s, and worked to enlist Eastern Europeans in the military over the next decade, according to the Defense Department.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the US military, according to the Defense Department.

Source: AP

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