The U.S. Army has begun discharging some immigrants who enlisted in the military with promises that their service would lead to U.S. citizenship, according to a report Thursday in The Associated Press.
Attorneys representing at least 40 people recruited through a program meant to attract talented enlistees — those with special language or medical skills — say their clients have been discharged or had their military status put into doubt in recent days. Some told the AP that they were given no reason why the discharges took place, while others said personal links to relatives living abroad led them to be labeled as security risks.
The AP could not confirm how many people had been discharged, and both the Pentagon and the Army declined to comment to AP.
The move, if true, is the latest sign of the Trump administration’s effort to rein in access to immigration. The White House has drawn widespread fury over its zero tolerance immigration policy, which has led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. And the president recently celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold his travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority nations.
The U.S. had for years allowed skilled immigrants with legal status to enlist under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, or MAVNI, and gain what President George W. Bush called “expedited naturalization” for their service. Many were recruited to fill posts requiring medical expertise, including Army Reserve dentists, or specific language skills, including Russian and Mandarin Chinese, according to The Washington Post.
The AP noted that about 10,000 people are currently serving under the program and that, in order to gain citizenship, enlistees must be honorably discharged. Some lawyers told AP, however, that the recruits removed from the Army were given neither an honorable nor dishonorable designation, but rather an “uncharacterized discharge.”
At least one, Lucas Calixto, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying he served for more than two years before he was unceremoniously kicked out even after recently earning a promotion in rank.
The Pentagon suspended MAVNI last fall and canceled the contracts for hundreds of recruits amid criticism that the program had grown too difficult to navigate due to increasingly detailed background checks, according to the Post.
Thursday’s report has already drawn swift rebuke from those on both sides of the aisle. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) called the decision “yet another low” by the White House, pointing to generations of immigrants that had served in the Armed Forces who have “boosted our military’s ranks and defended our values.”
“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,” Kasich said in a statement on Twitter.
Donald Trump would rather weaken our military than welcome immigrant recruits. This is disgusting. https://t.co/NVLWzsfJxS
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) July 5, 2018
The Trump (mis)Administration is discharging and breaking promises to immigrants willing to do what the Draft-Dodger-in-Chief was not willing to do, risk their lives serving in our Armed Forces. Shameful. https://t.co/flOf9nlDtm