The U.S. Army has reinstated more than 30 recruits it had forcibly discharged from a program created to fill high-demand positions throughout the military in exchange for a fast track to citizenship, according to documents filed in federal court on Monday.
Linden H. St. Clair, who serves as an adviser on matters relating to military accessions and retention to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, said in the documents that as of Aug. 17, 32 reservists had been brought back into active duty and another six, who had yet to enter training, have had their discharges revoked.
The army is reviewing the cases of more than a hundred other immigrant enlistees who were abruptly rejected from the program earlier this summer — some after years of waiting in legal limbo to begin training.
The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, was launched in 2009. It was designed to facilitate the search for highly skilled immigrant applicants with backgrounds in medicine and linguistics. In exchange for risking their lives, they were promised expedited U.S. citizenship.
Maj. Carla Gleason, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, told NPR in an email that the Army has temporarily suspended the process of discharging immigrant recruits --known as involuntary separations — she says, "in order to conduct a review" of its practices.
Gleason added that the Army is working with "deliberate speed" to complete background investigations, but she noted several factors that could trigger security concerns that could ultimately lead to disqualification, based on previous cases.
(1) a number of individuals accessed into the military based on receiving fraudulent visas to attend universities that did not exist;
(2) some MAVNI recruits attended, and later falsified transcripts from, universities owned by a Foreign National Security agency and a State Sponsored Intelligence Organization (notably, most of the university classmates of one MAVNI recruit later worked for the same State Sponsored Intelligence Organization); and
(3) one MAVNI recruit who entered the United States on a student visa professed support for 9/11 terrorists and said he would voluntarily help China in a crisis situation. In addition, the review uncovered a case where a MAVNI applicant failed to list foreign contacts from Eastern Europe and Russia, even though the recruit's father manages the military department of a foreign factory and his brother-in-law worked for a foreign political party.
"Since 2013, more than 20 individuals who accessed via the MAVNI program have become the subjects of [Department of Defense] DoD and/or FBI counterintelligence and/or criminal investigations," Gleason wrote.
The Army's decision to allow the return of the reservists and recruits comes less than a month after officials were ordered to halt processing all discharges of MAVNI recruits.
In July, dozens of enlistees were told they weren't eligible to serve in the U.S. military and that their contracts had been cancelled. Some, including reservist Panshu Zhao who spoke to NPR, said they were given no explanation for their discharge. Others were told their foreign ties — in most cases family members living in their home countries — had been cited as security risks.
The termination of the contracts by the Army has thrown the immigration status of some men and women into terrifying territory, a recruit from Pakistan told NPR. As their visas expire many face the imminent possibility of deportation, and with that a fear of what may happen to them when they return to their home countries.
A group of recruits, lead by Brazilian Lucas Calixto, filed a lawsuit against the Army in June, alleging that he was eliminated from MAVNI for "personnel security reasons." He, and the others are demanding a chance to defend themselves.
In the documents filed Monday, St. Clair said the Army is aiming to establish a policy by Sep. 4, on how it plans to "specify the separation procedures and separation authority for" MAVNI recruits who are found ineligible to serve.