The U.S. Army has discharged more than 500 immigrant enlistees during a 12-month period after being promised a path to citizenship, according to the Associated Press.
Those enlistees were part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) recruiting program, a path for noncitizens to come on board with the military in exchange for becoming a citizen sooner.
The program was launched in 2008 due to the military’s need for immigrants with medical and foreign language skills, but was put on hold 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.
According to a list turned in to the U.S. District Court in D.C., which was obtained by the Associated Press, a grand total of 502 military service members brought on via the MAVNI program have been cut loose between July, 2017, and July, 2018.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 10,000 immigrants have joined the military through MAVNI since 2009, the overwhelming majority in the Army, according to the Pentagon.
The Associated Press has spoken with more than a dozen recruits from Brazil, Pakistan, Iran, China, and Mongolia who all confirmed that they were devastated by their unexpected discharges or canceled contracts.
Badamsereejid Gansukh, who joined the military due to his ability to speak Turkish, said he didn’t know he had been discharged until he asked his congressman’s office to help him figure out why his security screening had been delayed so long.
“I never said I refuse to enlist, not at all,” Gansukh said. In fact, he said he had opted in for another year of service.
When Gansukh found out he had been discharged, he told the AP that he just “broke down.”
The U.S. Army claimed "refuse to enlist" for two-thirds of the MAVNI recruits they booted. Not true, says one, who didn't know he was discharged at all until he asked his congressman to help him figure out why his security screening was taking so long. https://t.co/it0xg5objw
— VoteVets (@votevets) October 12, 2018
The program ran into a major snag and ended up with a massive backlog due to Trump administration changes to the requirements of the program, such as new security screenings and longer enlistment periods.
The backlog was cited as a major reason many of the recruits had their contracts canceled or delayed. As of April, there were over 1,000 recruits waiting in that backlog.
Despite reports, Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason told The Hill that “there are no individuals being released from their contracts or separated from the military due to their immigration status.”
“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 continued.
She added that “while the vetting process takes time, it is essential to national security.”
DOD officials planned to relaunch the MAVNI program in September after making the required changes to the vetting process, but Department of Homeland Security officials told the Pentagon that they would not be able to block new immigrants from getting deported when or if their temporary visas expire, even if they signed the military contract.
Defense Secretary James Mattis backed the program reboot, telling reporters in August that “we need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve.”