Pentagon considers canceling program to recruit immigrants with in-demand skills

Pentagon considers canceling program to recruit immigrants with in-demand skills
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The Pentagon is considering halting a program that allows legal noncitizens who have in-demand skills to join the military in exchange for expedited citizenship, according to multiple reports.

Such a decision would mean that about 1,000 foreign-born recruits whose visas have expired could be subject to deportation, according to the reports.

The program, called Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI), was started in 2009 to recruit immigrants with urgently needed medical and language skills. There are about 10,000 immigrants in the program, mostly in the Army.

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In an undated memo to Defense Secretary James Mattis, personnel and intelligence officials cite security concerns in the program. The memo was reported by NPR on Monday and first reported by The Washington Post.

The memo cites "the potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services," and refers to an "elevated" risk of an insider threat, according to NPR.

Officials heightened security screenings for MAVNI participants last year, which the memo says has taxed the Army’s already constrained resources, according to the reports.

For that reason, the memo recommends canceling the enlistment contracts for the recruits awaiting basic training and then halting the program altogether, the reports say.

Of the 1,800 recruits awaiting basic training, about 1,000 have had their visas expire, according to the reports. That means they could be at risk of deportation if their enlistment contracts are canceled.

Additionally, about 4,100 troops who are mainly naturalized citizens may be subject to “enhanced screening,” though the Pentagon acknowledges legal constraints there, according to the reports.

"There are significant legal constraints to subjecting this population to enhanced screening without an individualized assessment of cause," the memo says, according to NPR.

Republicans last week referenced the security concerns about the MAVNI program during a debate about the annual defense policy bill.

“Even with the MAVNI program, where it's supposed to meet some of the vital national interests, the program has been replete with problems to include foreign infiltration, so much so that the Department of Defense is seeking to suspend the program due to those concerns,” Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) said during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the bill. “And I can’t really discuss some of that here in this setting, but there are some major issues when it comes to vetting.”