The Trump administration’s quest to reduce the number of immigrants—of any status—in the United States has taken many forms, some visibly abhorrent and others quietly so. The Associated Press added to the list of discreet moves by the administration with its report Thursday outlining how the Pentagon appears to be quietly discharging immigrant recruits that enlisted as part of a U.S. government program that fast-tracked them to citizenship in return for their service.
It’s not clear how many immigrant recruits have been discharged, but the AP’s reporting found immigration attorneys that knew of more than 40 recruits who have either been discharged or their status left in limbo as part of what, they say, is an intentional policy of neglect in order to keep the foreign recruits from serving. “Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said she’s been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged,” according to the AP. “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.”
Each of these discharged service members were part of the George W. Bush-era Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MANVI) program that, in 2008, granted “expedited naturalization” for immigrant enlistees, a move aimed at bolstering the ranks of the military’s critical language and medical specialists. President Obama later added DACA recipients—undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. as young children—to the list of those able to participate in the program. To be eligible for MANVI, a recruit has to be in the country legally, but is generally not a permanent resident. A student visa, for example, would be sufficient to enlist in the program. The Trump administration added new layers of background checks and lengthened the service required to receive expedited citizenship. Then, last fall, it cancelled the contracts of hundreds of recruits waiting for approval to enlist and, a few months later, suspended MANVI altogether.
More than 10,000 recruits have served in the military through the MANVI program, but since the Trump administration came into office the number of enlistees through the program dropped to zero, according to the Military Times. “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 labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them,” according to the AP. In a statement, the Department of Defense said: “All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation.” Immigration attorneys, however, told the AP that many of the recent discharges were classified as “uncharacterized discharge,” neither dishonorable nor honorable, leaving their immigration status potentially in limbo.
Since Sept. 11th, 2001 the Defense Department says more than 100,000 immigrants have become American citizens through serving in the U.S. military.