The military is booting out immigrant reservists and recruits who enlisted with the promise of a path to citizenship, according to an AP report. Some said they are being discharged with little warning or explanation, and the Army and Pentagon said they could not comment due to pending litigation.
Last week Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian reservist who came to the U.S. when he was 12, filed a lawsuit against the Army, alleging that he was offered no reason for his discharge aside from “personnel security,” and given no chance to defend himself.
Immigration attorneys told the AP they know of around 40 other people who have been discharged under similar circumstances, or whose status is now questionable.
Immigrants have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, and there are roughly 10,000 serving currently. The immigrants facing discharge all enrolled in recent years as part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI. The recruiting program, which was started under the George W. Bush administration, offered expedited naturalization to immigrants with much-needed skills, including military specialists and people fluent in certain languages.
MAVNI came under attack from conservatives when President Obama made DACA recipients eligible, so the military added additional security clearances for recruits. The Trump administration added even more requirements, creating a screening backlog at the Defense Department. Last fall the Pentagon abruptly canceled the contracts of hundreds of immigrants still in the recruitment process, and a few months later the program was suspended.
GOP Congressman Andy Harris, who backed legislation to limit the program, said it should have been established by Congress, not via executive order. “Our military must prioritize enlisting American citizens, and restore the MAVNI program to its specialized, limited scope,” he said.
Immigrants must have legal status to enroll in the military, but now some fear that in addition to losing their military career they could lose their immigration status. An Iranian citizen with a graduate degree in engineering, who was recently discharged, told the AP that he was proud he was “pursuing everything legally and living an honorable life.”
“It’s terrible because I put my life in the line for this country, but I feel like I’m being treated like trash,” he said. “If I am not eligible to become a U.S. citizen, I am really scared to return to my country.”