Allan Rimban has been trying to do everything right.
But his ship date was more than two years ago. At that time, the Defense Department began implementing an enhanced screening protocol that pushed his residency into a gray area. Then they rejected him because of it.
He spent over a year waiting to clear a background check, and when it did, the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility told him he wasn’t suitable to join the military because he had overstayed his visa ― while waiting for them.
“They wouldn’t have let me enlist if my visa expired before my ship date,” Rimban, 32, told Military Times on Tuesday.
Now, he’s waiting for a decision on his appeal.
“More than 100 days since I submitted my rebuttal, nothing has happened and I’m afraid nothing will,” he said.
When he took his oath, he still had more than nine months left on his visa. It expired in August 2016, a month after he was scheduled to ship to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he could have started his citizenship application.
“In my case, I feel very wronged because in my adjudication – overstaying a visa isn’t even in the guidelines,” he said.
Rimban moved to California in 2013 to study for a master’s degree in urban planning at San Jose State University. He grew up in a “highly Americanized, middle-class” family, he said, watching Band of Brothers and idolizing Capt. Dick Winters.
At first, he intended to go back home after his three-year visa.
But in 2015 his brother sent him a link to a talk show discussion of Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, a program dating back to 2008, which allows legal immigrants with certain attributes ― in Rimban’s case, a master’s degree and foreign language skills ― to join up and eventually become citizens.
He met with a recruiter and he was approved. He took his enlistment oath in late 2015 and planned to head to basic the following summer, until his recruiter let him know a few weeks before that there would be a delay.
At the time, questions were swirling about the MAVNI program, and whether its screening process was allowing recruits with close foreign ties to fudge their applications and get access to sensitive information. It was suspended in 2016, leaving about 1,000 hopefuls to push through an enhanced background screening.
Previously, MAVNI recruits had been allowed to attend basic while they waited for these checks, but with the longer process, they had to stay home and wait for a determination.
“We are working diligently and with all deliberate speed to complete all background investigations for the MAVNI population to honor the commitments we made to MAVNI recruits,” Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood told Military times on Thursday.
A memo from the Pentagon’s then-deputy chief management officer Peter Levine, who was performing the duties of the defense under secretary for personnel and readiness, instructed MAVNI recruits whose visas were in danger of running out to apply for deferred action, a legal status that allows immigrants to work and live in the U.S.
“Since the beginning of the MAVNI pilot program, the Department has advised participants that the accession process can be long and complicated and that they should maintain their immigration status or seek an alternate status throughout the process,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell told Military Times.
Rimban applied for deferred action that December, the same month he did his first MAVNI background interview. The deferred action came through in April 2017. He knew others who had their cases tied up and shipped to basic, but he continued to wait.
He had a security clearance interview later that year as part of the background check
“I was truthful and I reported it to my counterintelligence interviewers,” he said of his immigration status. “I gave them all my documents, including my deferred action letter.”
In June 2018, their determination came back: An unfavorable recommendation for a security clearance, citing “other issues,” because he had overstayed his visa ― despite deferred action providing legal residency.
But DoDCAF adjudicators are supposed to be following a “whole person concept” when they make decisions, taking into account the context of a possible disqualifier.
According to their guidelines, if someone has an issue that would preclude them from a clearance, the adjudicators are supposed to consider factors like the nature and seriousness of the issue, and the circumstances surrounding it.
“I’m all for national security,” Rimban said. “And if the process finds people who have undesirable characteristics or would be prone to bribery or disloyalty, eventually, I’m all for keeping them out.”
For instance, a bankruptcy could result in a denial of a security clearance for financial reasons, but if someone is truthful about the circumstances, has sought help to repair their finances and has shown progress, the CAF is supposed to approve them.
“While I can’t get into details of a specific case, if a background investigation reveals information that disqualifies a MAVNI recruit, that recruit, like any other recruit with a similar disqualification, is either released from his/her enlistment contract or separated from his/her respective service,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell could not elaborate on whether the DoDCAF correctly evaluated Rimban’s case.
“It’s important to know that the issues with the program are not about immigration, they are about national security,” she added.
Now, Rimban is caught in a citizenship purgatory.
“I’ve thought about going home,” he said. “Many people in my position have given up.”
He is not a legal permanent resident of the U.S., but by taking his enlistment oath, he effectively renounced his Philippines citizenship, he said, according to the country’s laws.
“I try my best to live the Army values since I enlisted," he said. "I took an oath and did my best, but I’ve been soldiering on. That’s what I expected an American soldier to do.”
Rimban said he received an official rejection from DoD in April, and submitted his appeal the same day. Over three months later, he’s still waiting for a final decision.
Beyond his own case, he said, he feels DoD has dropped the ball with an important program that Americans believed in.
“The taxpayers invested in this process, to filter out those recruits that would be a detriment to national security, and filter in those recruits that would be an asset – vital to the national interest,” he said. “I feel like taxpayers invested in a process that was mismanaged, or abused.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT