The United States Army has begun to discharge immigrant reservists and recruits with little to no explanation.
According to the Associated Press, immigration attorneys know of at least 40 men and women who were abruptly booted from service after they enlisted under a program that promised a pathway to citizenship. The move has put their status in jeopardy, as the Trump administration faces mounting criticism for its immigration policies.
Several of the recruits told the AP they were not given a reason for being discharged; while others said they were labeled a “security risk” because they had family members living abroad and/or their background checks were incomplete.
“It was my dream to serve in the military,” said Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant reservist who filed a lawsuit against the Army last week. “Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military.”
There are about 10,000 immigrants currently serving in the U.S. military. Those who are facing discharge reportedly enrolled through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which was started under the George W. Bush administration.
MAVNI offered expedited naturalization to potential immigrant servicemen and women who had valuable skills, such as fluency in certain languages or medical expertise. In order for the immigrant enlistees to gain citizenship, they are required to have a legal status as well as an “honorable service designation,” which is usually granted following boot camp; however, the recently discharged recruits did not obtain the designation because their basic training was delayed.
The Defense Department provided the following statement to the AP: “All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation.”
But—and this is a big but—many of the discharged recruits were given an “uncharacterized discharge,” rather than an honorable or dishonorable designation.
“Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and former lieutenant colonel who helped create the Army Reserve’s immigrant recruitment program. “We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”