Army discharged more than 500 immigrant recruits in one year

Army discharged more than 500 immigrant recruits in one year
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During a 12-month period the U.S. Army discharged more than 500 immigrant enlistees who were promised a path to citizenship.

The enlistees were part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) recruiting program, which allows legal noncitizens to join the military in exchange for expedited U.S. citizenship. 

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The Defense Department has recruited more than 10,000 immigrants through MAVNI since 2009, the overwhelming majority in the Army, according to the Pentagon.

The program was started in 2008, when there was an urgent need for immigrants with medical and language skills. It was put on hold in 2016 after concerns of insufficient screening for immigrant recruits.

According to a list the Army submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 502 service members who enlisted under MAVNI program were discharged between July 2017 and July 2018.

The list was first obtained by The Associated Press.

Two court documents containing the list were unsealed this week following a request from the AP.

Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason told The Hill on Friday that “there are no individuals being released from their contracts or separated from the military due to their immigration status.”

Of the discharged immigrants, more than 100 were told their entry-level performance and conduct was subpar and 48 were dismissed because of an adverse security screening. Others were dismissed for reasons ranging from personal problems to encounters with police.

The Pentagon has had its ups and downs with immigrant recruitment efforts since former President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers after 9/11. The push was an effort to quickly grow the military, and in 2009 MAVNI became an official recruiting program.

Former President Obama later allowed enlistment for young immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, causing additional security clearances to be added to MAVNI.

The program was suspended in 2016 “after several classified assessments concluded that the program, as previously configured, was vulnerable to an unacceptable level of risk from insider threats such as espionage, terrorism, and other criminal activity,” according to the Pentagon.

The Trump Administration required new security screenings and longer enlistments that created a backlog, with some immigrants waiting more than a year to pass through the process.

Because of the long wait caused by new screenings, dozens of immigrant recruits already in the pipeline were discharged or had their contracts canceled. The ensuing complaints and lawsuits led the Army to halt the discharges and reinstate at least 36 recruits.

As of April there were 1,000 recruits in delayed entry or delayed training programs.

“Because of the Department's desire to honor the commitments it has made to its MAVNI recruits, the Department is working diligently and with all deliberate speed to complete all background investigations for the MAVNI population,” Gleason said.

She added that “while the vetting process takes time, it is essential to national security.”

Army Secretary Mark Esper said last month that roughly 80 percent of MAVNI recruits who made it through screening were approved and enlisted.

He said the Army must “exercise due diligence, to make sure we understand who is coming into our ranks and just do that. 

“The process is never quick enough, certainly for them, and for me as well,” Esper added.

Defense officials had planned to relaunch the MAVNI program in September after bolstering the vetting process, but Department of Homeland Security officials told the Pentagon that they would not be able to block the deportation of new immigrant recruits when their temporary visas expire, even if they signed a military contract.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts Armed Services chairman bought, dropped defense stock MORE backed the restart, telling reporters in August that “we need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve.”