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'No New Policy' on Immigrants Joining Military, Says Pentagon


A Pakistani recruit, 22, who was recently discharged from the U.S. Army, holds an American flag as he poses for a picture, July 3, 2018.

The Pentagon says "there is no new policy" concerning immigrants who wish to join the U.S. military, after the Associated Press reported some immigrant reservists and recruits were being "abruptly discharged" from the Army.

"Any recruit … who receives an unfavorable security screening is deemed unsuitable for military service and is administratively discharged," Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nina Hill said Friday.

Hill added that each recruit undergoes reviews "dependent upon each individual's unique background." The Army, however, could not provide VOA with specific details of individuals' security checks due to privacy laws.

The discharged recruits and reservists cited in the Associated Press report were all enlisted in recent years under a special program targeting non-U.S. citizens called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, also known as MAVNI.

FILE - This recruit, who asked not to be identified because she is afraid of deportation, enlisted in the Army in March 2015 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI.
FILE - This recruit, who asked not to be identified because she is afraid of deportation, enlisted in the Army in March 2015 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI.

The program, aimed at bringing medical specialists and language specialists into the military, was ended in September 2017. However, hundreds of MAVNI recruits who were still in the process of joining the military at that time were to be "grandfathered in" if they passed appropriate security checks, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason.

"There is no new policy," Gleason added.

Foreign nationals must complete security screening, basic military training and 180 days of "honorable service" before they can become naturalized U.S. citizens. Those in the reserve components of the military must complete security screening, basic military training and one year of honorable service before they can become naturalized.

Since 2009, more than 10,000 non-U.S. citizens have joined or signed contracts to join the military through the MAVNI program. As of April this year, about 1,100 of those MAVNI recruits were still in the Army's delayed entry program, a process where individuals sign an enlistment agreement but are not yet service members.

A U.S. defense official told VOA and other reporters that the hundreds constituting this final group of MAVNI recruits likely could include those with backgrounds that are more difficult to clear through security.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the discharge of approximately 40 immigrant recruits from the Army as reported by the AP was part of a "normal process" and would "likely keep happening" as the final MAVNI recruits are assessed.

Service members in the U.S. military come from more than 240 countries and territories, according to Defense Department data from December 2017.

The Associated Press spoke with discharged reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who said, "It was my dream to serve in the military. Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military."

Some of the service members told the Associated Press their discharges were left unexplained. Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they'd been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them, according to the AP.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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