Beginning in 2009, the Pentagon established a program promising a fast track to citizenship for immigrant military recruits. The purpose of the program, called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was to encourage immigrants with medical and language skills to enlist if they wanted to become American citizens.
According to a memo obtained by NPR, the Pentagon is considering ending the program and canceling enlistment contracts with the foreign-born recruits; it has been temporarily halted pending further review. Per the memo, the cancellation of MAVNI would leave some 1,000 recruits without protection from deportation as their visas have expired.
Officials at the Pentagon addressed the memo to Defense Secretary James Mattis. They expressed concern that the program might make the American military more susceptible to infiltration by ill-intended individuals.
Citing “the potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services,” the memo requested that Mattis abandon MAVNI. But for the 10,000 immigrants in the MAVNI program, the cessation leaves their status in a legal quagmire.
NPR’s Richard Gonzales and Tom Bowman write:
In the memo, the Pentagon acknowledges that freezing the MAVNI program and subjecting recruits to more screening could be legally problematic. For example, some of the recruits are already naturalized citizens who have been deployed around the globe. “There are significant legal constraints to subjecting this population to enhanced screening without an individualized assessment of cause,” the memo states.
Gonzales and Bowman also spoke with the program’s founder, retired Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, who is an expert in immigration law. Stock’s opinion of the memo wasn’t exactly stellar. “If you were a bad guy who wanted to infiltrate the Army, you wouldn’t risk the many levels of vetting required in this program,” she said.
While the 1,000 recruits awaiting naturalization are unlikely to be deported since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has deferred action on their cases, requiring them to undergo additional screening might be unconstitutional.
“They’re subjecting this whole entire group of people to this extreme vetting, and it’s not based on any individual suspicion of any of these people,” Stock told NPR. “They’ve passed all kinds of security checks already. That in itself is unconstitutional.”