Frontera Fund News

Is the Pentagon Turning Its Back on Immigrant Soldiers?

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

In spite of the success of a program that recruits young men and women with special abilities important for U.S. national security, the Pentagon is considering scrapping it – putting some legal immigrants in danger of deportation.

The reason: extreme vetting due to extreme racism.

Some immigrants have chosen to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces thanks to the MAVNI program (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest). The program lets them enroll if they have special abilities such as fluency in a language or dialect of geopolitical importance, or specific medical training.

The Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund has been following and writing about this issue because these immigrants represent a great asset for the competitiveness of the Armed Forces.

But after months of suffering delays in the processing of their paperwork that allows them to fully participate in the military, slowed down by layers upon layers of background checks, immigrants found that the Pentagon has brought the program to a standstill. According to a high-level memo leaked to the press, the government is considering eliminating the program entirely.

The decision is a hard setback for young immigrants. Dismantling the program would cancel enlistment contracts for the immigrant recruits, leaving about 1,000 of them without legal protection from deportation when they expected to enlist, train, serve and earn a fast track to the naturalization process.

The memo leaked cites “the potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to foreign intelligence services.”

However, retired Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, who created the program in 2009 under George W. Bush’s administration, said that the concern over the MAVNI recruits is out of proportion. “If you were a bad guy who wanted to infiltrate the Army,” Stock said, “you wouldn’t risk the many levels of vetting required in this program.”

It is also important to note that some media have reported that the program allows undocumented immigrants to enroll, but this is not true. Only visa holders, asylees, and refugees can bypass the green card process and fast track the process of becoming U.S. citizens through MAVNI.

MAVNI enrollees have brought on two pending lawsuits. The lawsuits argue that the extreme vetting process violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by punishing an entire class of people without evidence based on individual suspicion.

The potential scrapping of MAVNI sadly also indicates that our country is walking away from a long history and tradition of immigrants serving in the Armed Forces and giving their lives to the U.S.