Top Dem urges Mattis not to cancel immigrants' enlistment contracts

Top Dem urges Mattis not to cancel immigrants' enlistment contracts
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is urging the Pentagon not to cancel contracts for more than 1,000 foreign-born recruits who were promised citizenship for enlisting.

“I write to express my deep concern about reports that the Department of Defense is considering canceling or dramatically altering the contracts it entered into with foreign-born recruits to the United States military, under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday.

“As you consider a sustainable future for the MAVNI program, I strongly urge you not to take any action that harms military recruiting efforts or the readiness of our armed forces.”

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The Washington Post and NPR reported recently that the Pentagon is considering halting the MAVNI program, which was started in 2009 to recruit legal immigrants with urgently needed medical and language skills. In exchange for enlisting, they were promised expedited citizenship.

An undated memo to Mattis from personnel and intelligence officials cites security concerns in the program. 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.

In his letter to Mattis, Warner argued that enlisting through the MAVNI program is “not easy.”

First, he said, participants have to have unique, in-demand skills, such as fluency in Pashto, that the Pentagon has deemed “critical” and “vital to the national interest.”

Participants also undergo thorough screening, he added.

“Before receiving orders to basic training, applicants must clear a thorough background check that includes screenings within the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community,” Warner wrote.

Warner also highlighted that the Pentagon chose to extend the program, which started as a pilot, in 2016.

Should the Pentagon cancel the enlistment contracts, Mattis can expect “strong, swift” reaction, he added.

“Military recruits in the MAVNI program should not have to wonder whether the United States will honor the contract they signed,” he wrote. “If we fail to uphold the contracts we have made with MAVNI applicants, this will not only have a significantly deleterious effect on recruiting, it will also be met with a strong, swift congressional reaction.”