Terry Schwadron

Jul 8, 2018

5 min read

Targeting Our Immigrant Soldiers?

Terry H. Schwadron

July 8, 2018

Last week, the Associated Press reported that at least 40 immigrant Army recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship were suddenly discharged or are having their legal status questioned before they have served long enough to qualify for expedited naturalization.

The Number One issue in President Trump’s out-of-control, out-of-proportion attack on immigration remains the challenges raised by separating children, particularly young children, from migrant parents. Now, we’re hearing that there are 3,000 separated from parents, that the government can’t make its court-ordered deadline for reunions, and that the government will resist efforts to reunite children of deported parents. Wow.

Still, telling soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that putting their live on the line for the United States immediately rocketed to near the top for me. Unlike the child separation issue, in which the Trump administration seems to be flailing to meet the rules, the focus of this anti-immigration program seems narrow and focused.

Some of these immigrant enlistees will now carry discharge documents that unjustly and incorrectly label them a security risk. Their personal paths to citizenship will be delayed, perhaps permanently.

The AP said it was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program, some as reservists, 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, jeopardizing their futures.

According to the AP, 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 that they had been labeled 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 told the AP that, because of the pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes in any of the military branches.

In this program, eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., 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, mostly in the Army. The AP explained that to become citizens, the service members need an honorable 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 naturalized.

Bureaucracy aside, it seems close to outrageous that Donald Trump, who has been wrapping himself in the American Flag and going out of his way each week to embrace the troops, would use the immigration club on these military targets.

In a New York Times Op-Ed column, a veterans adviser argued that Trump is using the military as a tool to segregate citizens from immigrants who lack citizenship, and, by doing so, compromising the structural and moral integrity of the armed forces.

The AP interviewed Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer in Alaska who, as a retired Amery Reserve officer, help to create the immigrant recruitment program. She said she has been inundated in the last weeks 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” program, she said.

The special program aimed at bringing medical specialists and fluent speakers of 44 sought-after languages into the military.

“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 reporters also talked with reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who came to this country at age 12 who filed a lawsuit against the Army last week. “It was my dream to serve in the military. 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. Now the great feeling I had when I enlisted is going down the drain,” said Calixto, 28.

In hopes of undoing the discharge, he filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., 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 “personnel security.”

Another service member the AP found was from Pakistan who feared that he now could be forced to return to Pakistan where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee. That was echoed by another of Iranian descent who had come to America for a graduate degree in engineering.

The Defense Department said: “All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation.”

However, immigration attorneys told the AP that many immigrants let go in recent weeks were an “uncharacterized discharge,” neither dishonorable nor honorable.

The service members affected by the recent discharges all enlisted in recent years under a special program 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 “recognize their contribution and sacrifice.”

The special program started in 2002 and became the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI. It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally — to 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. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process had their contracts canceled. A few months later, the military suspended MAVNI.

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