U.S. Army Accused Of Discharging Immigrant Recruits After Promises Of Path To Citizenship

The Army has been accused of abruptly discharging immigrant reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with the promise of a path to American citizenship. 

The Associated Press, which first broke the story, said immigration lawyers were aware of as many as 40 enlistees being discharged in recent weeks.

GettyImages-991643394 A military honor guard walks down the street to open the Provo Freedom Festival Parade in Provo, Utah, on July 4. The Army has been accused of discharging immigrant recruits. George Frey/Getty

It is unclear how many of those 40 enlistees were enlisted in the Army through its special recruitment program that promises a path to citizenship in exchange for service. 

For years, the U.S. has provided skilled immigrants with legal status the opportunity to enlist under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program (MAVNI), which provides what President George W. Bush, who oversaw the initiative's launch, called "expedited naturalization."

The Pentagon suspended MAVNI last fall, but more than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, with an estimated 10,000 currently serving, according to the AP.

To become citizens through the program, however, service members must achieve an honorable service designation. The designation can be obtained just a few days after receiving basic training, but because some recruits have reportedly been discharged before receiving such training, they will no longer be given the chance to become U.S. citizens through the program. 

Many said they were discharged without being provided any reason for their dismissal, while others were told they had been labeled security risks because they had relatives living abroad or because their background checks were still pending. 

Reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant, told the AP he filed a lawsuit against the Army last week over his dismissal. 

“It was my dream to serve in the military,” Calixto said. “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.”  

Reports of immigrant recruits being discharged have drawn criticism, including some from Republicans such as Ohio Governor John Kasich. He called the decision "yet another low" for the White House. 

"America has the most powerful military in the world and since our nation's founding we have welcomed immigrants into its ranks," Kasich wrote in a statement published online Thursday.

"In exchange for putting their lives on the line for our freedom, immigrants—legal immigrants that we have welcomed into our country—have long been able to earn their citizenship. In the process, we have boosted our military's ranks and defended our values," he continued. 

"Breaking faith with these members of our armed forces, as this White House has decided to, is yet another low," Kasich said. "This decision must be reversed now, for the sake of our military, to show that America keeps its word and to uphold the very values we claim to stand for." 

The Department of Defense has not immediately responded to a request for comment from Newsweek. 

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army told the AP that, due to pending litigation, they were unable to provide an explanation for the alleged discharges.


Editor's Pick