One thousand foreign-born military recruits are facing deportation under a proposed Pentagon plan to cancel enlistment contracts for those without legal immigration status, reports The Washington Post.
A Defense Department memo obtained by The Washington Post highlights potential security threats in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which was implemented to accelerate citizenship in exchange for crucial medical and language skills.
In addition to the cancellation of contracts for some foreign-born recruits, 4,100 troops could undergo enhanced screening. Most of the 4,100 are naturalized citizens, and the Pentagon raised concerns on how to proceed with "significant legal constraints" of "continuous monitoring" of citizens without cause, per the report.
The MAVNI program was launched by the Defense Department in 2009. In the program's eight-year history, 10,400 troops have come through the program to fill vital medical and language billets.
Linguistic skill-sets such as Pashto, Russian and Mandarin Chinese are crucial to military operations, but in short supply with U.S.-born troops, according to the report.
The vetting process for MAVNI recruits diverted "already constrained Army fiscal and manpower resources," the memo said. The memo also stated the enhanced vetting process and security risk prompted officials to recommend the cancellation of enlistment contracts for the 1,800 recruits awaiting basic training and suspending the program altogether.
One thousand of the recruits currently in the military's delayed-entry program have had their visas expire while awaiting orders for basic training, putting them at risk for deportation if their contracts are rescinded.
"It's terrible. You trusted the Army, who delayed the process, and now they're going to cancel your contract and have you deported," commented Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based attorney and retired Army officer who played a central role in MAVNI's implementation, to the Post.
Stock, now an immigration attorney, noted the Department of Homeland Security may welcome the move as the Trump administration ups deportations. It is unclear if the military would turn over information on the recruits to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
One of those recruits, Jullian Anderson Fernandes de Melo, is a part of those numbers, and because contracts may get cancelled, de Melo and many others like him face deportation, said The Salt Lake Tribune.
A Brazilian national, de Melo came to Utah on a student visa and told the Tribune, "I am not illegal."
De Melo wants to join the U.S. Army and has a vital skill to the U.S. military — he can speak Portuguese fluently — but because of the delay, de Melo's contract, which was signed on February 26, 2016, is being pushed back. He now faces possible deportation after the Army told him to withdrawal from the student visa program before graduation from the University of Utah, said the Tribune.
"I would never imagine that it would take me down this route to lose my status and be kind of grasping at straws here and try to find a way to stay in the country legally," de Melo said.
The delays began last year, according to Stock, after the Department of Defense determined higher security checks were needed for immigrant recruits.
"It's okay to investigate someone with a legitimate security threat," Stock said. "But share a characteristic they don't like, which is they're foreigners. They're going to be treated as second-class citizens for their entire career."
Stock waved off the concerns of increased risk associated with the MAVNI recruits. The memo states 30 percent have "unmitigable derogatory information" that could disqualify them from service. Stock said this term is often used to describe applicants with conditions that cannot be helped, such as having a family member who worked for a foreign government or just having foreign relatives — something very common.
"You can't treat people with a certain characteristic differently," she told the Post. "You don't do surveillance on everyone who is Irish-American because Mike Flynn broke the law when talking to the Russians."
Mackenzie Wolf is an editorial intern for Military Times.