Army dis­charges 502 im­mi­grants over year

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MARTHA MEN­DOZA AND GARANCE BURKE

Over the course of 12 months, the U.S. Army dis­charged more than 500 im­mi­grant en­lis­tees who were re­cruited across the globe for their lan­guage or med­i­cal skills and promised a fast track to cit­i­zen­ship in ex­change for their ser­vice, The As­so­ci­ated Press has found.

The decade-old Mil­i­tary Ac­ces­sions Vi­tal to the Na­tional In­ter­est re­cruit­ing pro­gram was put on hold in 2016 amid con­cerns that im­mi­grant re­cruits were not be­ing screened suf­fi­ciently. The Army be­gan boot­ing out those en­lis­tees last year with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

The AP in­ter­viewed more than a dozen re­cruits from coun­tries such as Brazil, Pak­istan, Iran, China and Mon­go­lia who all said they were dev­as­tated by their un­ex­pected dis­charges or can­celed con­tracts.

Un­til now, it’s been un­clear how many were dis­charged and for what rea­son be­cause the Army has re­fused to dis­cuss spe­cific cases. But the Army’s own list, sub­mit­ted to the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia last month, says 502 ser­vice mem­bers who en­listed un­der the pro­gram were dis­charged be­tween July 2017 and July 2018.

The list, which was un­sealed this week af­ter a re­quest from the AP, of­fers “refuse to en­list” as the rea­son for ex­pelling two-thirds of the re­cruits. That is the rea­son given for 35 per­cent of en­lis­tee dis­charges Army-wide, ac­cord­ing to a re­search study posted on a De­fense De­part­ment web­site.

But at least one re­cruit whose pa­per­work said he was be­ing dis­charged from the pro­gram for that rea­son said it was not ac­cu­rate.

Badamseree­jid Gan­sukh, whose re­cruiter told him his Turk­ish lan­guage skills would be an as­set to the mil­i­tary, said he didn’t know he was dis­charged at all un­til he asked his con­gress­man’s of­fice this sum­mer to help him fig­ure out why his se­cu­rity screen­ing was tak­ing so long.

“I never said I refuse to en­list, not at all,” Gan­sukh said. In fact, he said, he had opted in for an­other year af­ter get­ting a call from his re­cruiter.

Upon learn­ing he was dis­charged, “I just broke down,” the Min­nesota State Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate said.

The De­fense De­part­ment said it would not com­ment on in­di­vid­ual cases.

Twenty-two per­cent of the dis­charged im­mi­grants were told their en­try-level per­for­mance and con­duct was sub­par, which Pen­tagon spokesman Carla Glea­son said could in­clude be­ing in­jured. Ten per­cent — or 48 ser­vice mem­bers — were listed as be­ing dis­charged be­cause of an un­fa­vor­able se­cu­rity screen­ing. This can in­clude hav­ing fam­ily mem­bers in an­other coun­try — which is typ­i­cal for im­mi­grants — or the mil­i­tary not com­plet­ing all of the screen­ings in a rea­son­able pe­riod.

There were three dis­charges for ap­a­thy or per­sonal prob­lems, two for hav­ing an en­counter with po­lice af­ter en­list­ing, one due to preg­nancy and an­other cit­ing ed­u­ca­tion, which could in­di­cate a uni­ver­sity op­por­tu­nity.

Two “de­clined to ship” to boot camp, the list said, and two en­lis­tees were dis­charged with the ex­pla­na­tion “un­known,” which the De­fense De­part­ment said it could not ex­plain.

The names of the ser­vice mem­bers and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion were redacted from the list to pro­tect their pri­vacy.

All the en­lis­tees had com­mit­ted to ac­tive duty or re­serves; many had been reg­u­larly drilling and train­ing with their re­cruiters in prepa­ra­tion for boot camp while await­ing se­cu­rity clear­ances.

If a re­cruit hasn’t started ac­tive duty, the U.S. Army and Army Na­tional Guard have “the author­ity to sep­a­rate the in­di­vid­ual and ter­mi­nate the con­tract, whether at the ap­pli­cant’s re­quest or at the govern­ment’s con­ve­nience,” Army spokesman Jes­sica Maxwell said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

Mar­garet Stock, an im­mi­gra­tion and na­tional se­cu­rity law ex­pert who helped cre­ate the pro­gram, said the Army is not giv­ing en­lis­tees their le­gal right to ap­peal.

“They are try­ing to get rid of peo­ple,” she said.

El­i­gi­ble re­cruits are re­quired to have le­gal sta­tus in the U.S., such as a stu­dent visa, be­fore en­list­ing. More than 5,000 im­mi­grants were re­cruited into the pro­gram in 2016, and an es­ti­mated 10,000 are cur­rently serv­ing. The vast ma­jor­ity go into the Army, but some go to the other mil­i­tary branches.

Gan­sukh, a first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant from Mon­go­lia, said he had hoped to be a part of some­thing larger when he en­listed, and be­lieved his ser­vice would be an hon­or­able way to seek cit­i­zen­ship in his new coun­try.

“Now I feel like I was re­ally tar­geted in a way,” he said. “I feel iso­lated from the rest of the peo­ple who are liv­ing here.”

As the cases snow­balled, some be­gan su­ing.

In re­sponse to the lit­i­ga­tion, the Army stopped pro­cess­ing dis­charges last month and re­in­stated at least three dozen re­cruits who had been thrown out of the ser­vice.

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis told re­porters late last month that he sup­ports the pro­gram.

“We need and want ev­ery qual­i­fied pa­triot will­ing to serve and able to serve,” Mat­tis said.

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