U.S. Army cut­ting con­tracts for im­mi­grant re­cruits

Hun­dreds may be af­fected, with some now fac­ing de­por­ta­tion

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ALEX HOR­TON More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ news/ check­point

U.S. Army re­cruiters have abruptly can­celed en­list­ment con­tracts for hun­dreds of for­eign­born mil­i­tary re­cruits since last week, up­end­ing their lives and po­ten­tially ex­pos­ing many to de­por­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral af­fected re­cruits and for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with their sit­u­a­tion.

Many of these en­lis­tees have waited years to join a trou­bled im­mi­gra­tion re­cruit­ment pro­gram de­signed to at­tract highly skilled im­mi­grants into the ser­vice in ex­change for fast-track cit­i­zen­ship.

Now re­cruits and ex­perts say that re­cruiters are shed­ding their con­tracts to free them­selves from an oner­ous en­list­ment process, which in­cludes ex­ten­sive back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions, to fo­cus on in­di­vid­u­als who can more quickly en­list and thus sat­isfy strict re­cruit­ment tar­gets.

Margaret Stock, a re­tired Army of­fi­cer cen­tral to the cre­ation of the im­mi­gra­tion re­cruit­ment pro­gram, told The Wash­ing­ton Post that she has re­ceived dozens of fran­tic mes­sages from re­cruits this week, with many more re­port­ing sim­i­lar ac­tion in Face­book groups. She said hun­dreds could be af­fected.

“It’s a dump­ster fire ru­in­ing peo­ple’s lives. The mag­ni­tude of in­com­pe­tence is be­yond be­lief,” she said. “We have a war go­ing on. We need these peo­ple.”

The na­tion­wide dis­rup­tion comes at a time when Pres­i­dent Trump nav­i­gates a po­lit­i­cal mine­field, work­ing with Democrats on the fate of “dream­ers” — un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to the United States as chil­dren — while con­tin­u­ing to stoke his an­ti­im­mi­grant base. It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether Pen­tagon of­fi­cials have taken hard-line im­mi­gra­tion stances from the White House as a sig­nal to ramp down sup­port for its for­eign-born re­cruit­ment pro­gram.

Stock said a re­cruiter told her there was pres­sure from the re­cruit­ing com­mand to re­lease for­eign-born re­cruits, with one di­rec­tive sug­gest­ing they had un­til Sept. 14 to cut them loose with­out count­ing against their re­cruit­ing tar­gets, an ac­count­ing quirk known as “loss for­give­ness.”

The re­cruiter told Stock that the Army Re­serve is strug­gling to meet its num­bers be­fore the fis­cal year closes Sept. 30 and that can­cel­ing on re­source-in­ten­sive re­cruits is at­trac­tive to some re­cruiters, she said.

On Friday, the Pen­tagon de­nied or­der­ing a mass can­cel­la­tion of im­mi­grant re­cruit con­tracts and said there were no in­cen­tives to do so. Of­fi­cials said that re­cent di­rec­tives to re­cruiters were meant to re­it­er­ate that im­mi­grant re­cruits must be sep­a­rated within two years of en­list­ment un­less they “opt in” for an ad­di­tional year.

But some re­cruits among half a dozen in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle said they were not ap­proach­ing that two-year limit when their con­tracts were can­celed, sow­ing con­fu­sion about the rea­son they were cut loose. The Pen­tagon de­clined to ad­dress whether mes­sages to re­cruiters con­tained lan­guage that could have been mis­in­ter­preted.

Lola Ma­madzhanova, 27, who im­mi­grated to the United States from Kyr­gyzs­tan in 2009, said she heard that Army re­cruiters in Evanston, Ill., texted im­mi­grant re­cruits last week ask­ing whether they still wanted to en­list, with an un­usual con­di­tion: They had 10 min­utes to re­spond. She never re­ceived the text mes­sage. Her ac­tive-duty con­tract was can­celed Sept. 7, ac­cord­ing to a sep­a­ra­tion doc­u­ment ob­tained by The Post that said she “de­clined to en­list.” She later learned that re­cruiters used a wrong num­ber to text her.

Some anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment has swirled in the Pen­tagon for years, for­mer staffers have said, with per­son­nel and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lard­ing the im­mi­grant re­cruit­ing process with ad­di­tional se­cu­rity checks for visa hold­ers al­ready vet­ted by the De­part­ments of State and Home­land Se­cu­rity.

“Im­mi­grant re­cruits are al­ready screened far more than any other re­cruits we have,” Naomi Ver­dugo, a for­mer se­nior re­cruit­ing of­fi­cial for the Army at the Pen­tagon, told The Post.

Ver­dugo, along with Stock, helped im­ple­ment the pro­gram. One In­dian im­mi­grant, a Har­vard grad­u­ate and early re­cruit who is now a Spe­cial Forces sol­dier, was called back to un­der­take the up­dated se­cu­rity checks, she said.

In­ter­nal Pen­tagon doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Post have said the im­mi­grant re­cruit­ment pro­gram, for­mally known as the Mil­i­tary Ac­ces­sions Vi­tal to Na­tional In­ter­est (MAVNI) pro­gram, was sus­pended last fall af­ter the clear­ance process was par­a­lyzed and of­fi­cials voiced con­cern over for­eign in­fil­tra­tors, though it re­mains un­clear whether any threats have ever ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Ex­perts say the rel­a­tively small num­ber of re­cruits in the MAVNI pro­gram pos­sess skills with out­size value, such as for­eign-lan­guage skills highly sought by Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand. The pro­gram has ro­tated 10,400 troops into the mil­i­tary, mostly the Army, since its in­cep­tion in 2009.

In a sum­mer memo, the Pen­tagon listed 2,400 for­eign re­cruits with signed con­tracts who are drilling in re­serve units but have not been nat­u­ral­ized and have not gone to ba­sic train­ing. About 1,800 oth­ers were wait­ing for their ac­tive-duty train­ing to be­gin.

The doc­u­ment ac­knowl­edges that 1,000 of those troops waited so long that they are no longer in le­gal sta­tus and could be ex­posed to de­por­ta­tion. That num­ber prob­a­bly has climbed since the memo was drafted in May or June. Law­mak­ers have asked Trump and De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis to in­ter­vene on be­half of those re­cruits.

Sens. Ka­mala D. Har­ris (D-Calif.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) filed an amend­ment in the de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill Tues­day to re­tain MAVNI re­cruits un­til their lengthy back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions are fin­ished.

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