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Will The Pentagon Cancel Its Program For Immigrant Soldiers?

The Pentagon is reportedly considering canning a military/immigration program that enlists immigrant soldiers with specialized skills in exchange for naturalization assistance.

Founded in 2009 by retired Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was designed to reach out to immigrants with valuable skills, offering them U.S. citizenship in return for military service and rendering their unique skill set to the military. In particular, the program sought to recruit those with medical training and/or language skills (e.g. ability to speak Arabic), allowing them to skip parts of the green card application process.

Now, almost 10,000 immigrants, many of whom are either visa holders, asylees, or refugees, are counting on the program for their US citizenship.

The proposed dismantling of the MAVNI program would consequently revoke the enlistment of noncitizens in the army. This would make over a thousand US soldiers—dependent on the Pentagon’s initial offer, now having already established stable lives within the United States, and shouldering a long history of service in the US military—vulnerable to immediate deportation.

At least 1,000 of the recruits have expired visas and can only remain in the country through the deferred action inherent in the deal. However, they all stand to be deported upon the dissolution of the program.

The proposal to undo the program was made by Pentagon high-level personnel and intelligence officials in a memo addressed to Defense Secretary James Mattis, emphasizing the “elevated risk” of insider threat posed by taking in foreign recruits.

Security concerns surrounding insufficient vetting of recruits make the bulk of the rationale, pointing out a “potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to foreign intelligence services.” The Pentagon also cited and acted upon proven forged university degrees, vetting current enlistees and barring new ones.

Under the proposal, MAVNI immigrants will be classified according to their deemed potential security risk. Four divisions will be set up representing risk levels, each with their own protocols for further vetting and appraisal of each immigrant. Noncitizens already in service, as well as those still in training, are both eligible for such security measures.

Lt. Col. Stock opposes the proposal, deeming the security concerns to be exaggerated, saying that “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.”

If you or a loved one has enlisted in the military through the MAVNI program and want to know your rights and options should the program be dissolved, don’t hesitate to talk to the immigration law team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to speak with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle about your options to obtain citizenship or stay in the country with proper documentation.

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