The Trump administration’s hardline immigration policy is endangering a Pentagon initiative to offer citizenship in exchange for service.
According to POLITICO and the Associated Press, Pentagon officials had been hoping to revamp a critical services program. Under its purview, individuals with ‘critical medical or Asian and African language skills’ would be allowed to joined the military and earn expedited citizenship.
But the decade-old program has been on hold since 2016, after Obama officials raised concerns that recruits weren’t being vetted thoroughly enough.
Nearly two years have passed since the program was temporarily stopped. Defense officials say they’ve revamped the screening process and want to again expand recruitment to immigrant populations.
However, the military has run into an unexpected hurdle: the Department of Homeland Security.
POLITICO says the agency can’t commit to protecting immigrant recruits from being deported ‘when their temporary visas expired after they signed a contrary to join the military.’ That information, supplied by an anonymous official, hasn’t yet been codified or released as public policy.
If confirmed, Homeland Security’s hang-up would create some dissonance within the Trump administration. The program, called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, is backed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
“We need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve,” Mattis said last month, adding that the department is working to address any remaining security screening questions.
Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that “the unique skill sets these individuals bring is one of the reasons the U.S. military is the world’s premier fighting force.”
Gleason, reports the Associated Press, said the Defense Department suspended the program in 2016 after assessments showed it was “vulnerable to an unacceptable level of risk from insider threats such as espionage, terrorism, and other criminal activity.”
The program’s suspension has caused ‘hundreds of immigrants’ to have recruitment applications stalled. Some have seen intake dates pushed back for over a year, leading to legal complaints and litigation.
Abiodun Awonusi told her story to Task and Purpose in July 2018, explaining that signing up for military service can complicate immigrants’ efforts to legally stay in the United States.
“When you join the MAVNI program it kind of leaves you in a messed up situation, because once you do that with immigration they say you have shown intent to stay,” she told the website. “So you technically cannot apply for any other immigration categories that don’t show intent to stay.
“So it leaves you in a little rut where there’s not a lot to do and you just have to wait it out and see what happens,” she said. “I am not legally allowed to work.”
Translators and intelligence officers have long been recruited from immigrant and native populations. The ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan saw thousands of Arab-, Urdu- and Pashto-speaking individuals recruited or contracted by the Unite States Armed Forces.