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U.S. Military Quitely Discharging Noncitizens

Colleen Muñoz

July 12, 2018

In the wake of the global war on terror, President George Bush signed an executive order permitting immigrants the opportunity to enlist and serve in the U.S. military. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the development benefited the U.S. military by bringing strength in numbers, diversity in language-capabilities, and expansion in technical skills. In exchange for their service, the U.S. Government promised participants eligibility to naturalize as U.S. citizens.

In 2008, the Bush administration piloted a program recruiting and enlisting eligible individuals in the U.S. Army Reserve through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. Since September 11, 2001, approximately 110,000 troops have benefitted from the program and served in various U.S. military branches.

Generally, the program limits recruits to those obtaining permanent residency in the United States prior to enlisting. However, the Army and the Department of Defense exercise discretion in determining who becomes eligible for admission into the program and have extended the offer to noncitizens and DACA recipients, as well. The program promises enlisted soldiers an expedited path to U.S. citizenship.

Much to their surprise, several dozen recruits were quitely discharged without an explanation. Other recruits received intel that they were considered security risks due to their relatives abroad, or that their background checks had not yet been completely processed.

Authorities are unable to identify an exact number of dismissed recruits; however, Army immigration attorneys are circulating figures quantifying approximately 40 recruits dismissed thus far.

Private Lucas Calixto, an immigrant from Brazil, represents one of the several dozen recruits quietly dismissed. Mr. Calixto was dismissed after serving in the U.S. Army for two years, and a year after applying for naturalization. Shortly thereafter, he received a notice ordering his removal from the Army. Mr. Calixto’s vacant disciplinary record and recent promotion served as no warrant for a dismissal. On June 28, 2018, Mr. Calixto filed suit against the Army following his abrupt, inexplicable dismissal and inability to respond to the order.

Honorable discharge characterizations protect recruits from deportation and authorize naturalization as promised. However, a dishonorable discharge will not permit an application for naturalization. The quiet discharge several of the MAVNI recruits recently received were classified as “uncharacterized discharges”, neither honorable nor dishonorable. The ambiguous classification thus exposes the recruits to the sight of limbo wherein the threat of deportation seems more tangible.

The Department of Defense notes that all recruits must receive a background check. In light of the U.S. government’s recently aggressive approach to immigration, background checks have become backlogged and more extensive, including screenings from the CIA, FBI and National Intelligence Agency. For many of the discharged recruits, their participation in the U.S. military halted due to the lagging administration of their background check. In effect, the recruits were then quietly dismissed and left to determine their own fate in remaining lawfully in the United States.

MAVNI is currently unavailable for new recruits. Department of Defense officials confirm they are working to resolve the existing recruits’ naturalization delays and will then reassess the program.

Noncitizens have served in the U.S. military since 1775 and have provided exceptional benefits throughout the Revolutionary War, World War II, and the global war or terror. Mr. Calixto explains in his complaint, “I was devastated, because I love the U.S. and was so honored to be able to serve this great country. . . . I put my life on the line for this country, but I feel like I’m being treated like trash. If I am not eligible to become a U.S. citizen, I am really scared to return to my country.”