After pausing the special immigrant enlistment program due to the lack of legal and policy clarity, U.S. Army officials re-open opportunities for foreign-born recruits. While military service traditionally offers a path to citizenship for immigrant enlistees, unsettled reform issues, as well as calls by President Donald Trump for increased vetting around all levels of national security, left recruiters turning their backs on immigrant men and women.
A particularly sticky point of confusion centers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which extends to those undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. The status, granted in 2-year increments, fulfills the legal status requirement for immigrant soldiers; however, because of efforts to dismantle the program, military recruiters effectively implemented a rejection policy for DACA holders.
The military division’s change of heart comes about a month after reports of involuntary discharges and cancelled contracts for immigrant enlistees. According to the Associated Press, “Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” reads a memo signed by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.
Although officials with the Pentagon say they adopted no official policy precluding the admission of legal-status immigrants into the armed services, Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel Margaret Stock, says the memo ordering the suspension of involuntary discharges proves that such a policy existed.
“It’s an admission by the Army that they’ve improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers,” she said. “The next step should be go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged.”
The roots for the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which Stock helped to develop, formed after the 9/11 attacks when President George Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers. Under President Barack Obama’s DACA executive order, the bandwidth of potential immigrant recruits expanded further.
In 2016, more than 5,000 immigrant recruits participated in MAVNI. An estimated 10,000 immigrants currently serve. According to the Department of Defense, nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001,