The real story behind the MAVNI discharges

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The real story behind the MAVNI discharges

So there was an article from the AP that got people fired up, and at first blush it did look pretty bad for Team Army:

Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.

The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures.

The article is full of anecdotal evidence about how unjust and unfair it is:

The AP spoke with a 26-year-old woman from Dominica who said she proudly enlisted in the immigrant recruitment program in 2016 while earning her nursing degree. She said she drilled each month with her reserve unit, which gave her an award, and had been awaiting a date to start basic training.

But in March, she said she looked up her profile on an Army portal and saw that the section about her security eligibility was marked “loss of jurisdiction,” with no further explanation. The next month, her attorney said she found the reservist’s name listed as “unsuitable” on a spreadsheet created by the Defense Department.

The reservist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about her legal standing, said she received additional paperwork last month that indicated her case is awaiting a final decision.

“I have always been a good soldier and have always done what they ask me to do,” she said. “I got into debt when I joined the Army because I can’t work legally but, financially, I can’t survive anymore. I don’t want to give up because I genuinely like being in the Army. But I don’t know who to turn to.”

Now, the general tone of the article and the reaction to it all seems to be that the US has suddenly turned it's back on these people and that it's because of some pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment by the new Administration.

The reality is far more nuanced, and actually goes back to the last Administration.  One thing to note up front is that these aren't discharges in the conventional sense.  None of the people involved have actually gone to basic training.  Yes, some are in drilling status with reserve units, but none are actually on Active Duty in the conventional sense.

Military Times started with a mini-fact check article:

MAVNI was an entry point for personnel with critical language or medical skills who were in the U.S. temporarily, such as through student visas, or here seeking asylum.

Most of its participants came from overseas – Africa, Southwest Asia, China, India, Eastern Europe – places where the U.S. had a need for those language skills. 

Most did not come from Latin America or Mexico. And immigrants who were already in the U.S. legally and who held a green card were not eligible for MAVNI but could enlist and pursue citizenship without the program. 

Another anecdote from CBS News actually points to the issue:

Private First Class Alina Kaliuzhna is a medic stationed at Camp Bullis, and she's in the country legally, just like everyone in that recruitment program. She told us she enlisted because she didn't just want to get her U.S. citizenship. She wanted to earn it, and do it honorably, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.

Kaliuzhna doesn't know when she'll get her official discharge orders.

"The dedication and service that they do -- I thought it was extraordinary because it was a volunteer force. So I wanted to be a part of that," Kaliuzhna said.

For more than two years, the Ukrainian immigrant has been unable to clear new background checks. Her dreams of becoming a nurse and commissioned U.S. Army officer are dimming by the day.

It's the background checks that have been the stumbling block for everyone in the program.  

A Pentagon spokeswoman told CBS News MAVNI was suspended in 2016 because it "was vulnerable to an unacceptable level of risk from insider threats such as espionage, terrorism, and other criminal activity." 

Kaliuzhna's records indicate she was flagged because of discrepancies in her answers during her security review. Her screener believed her "ability to protect classified information has been compromised." 

As to the blame game, everyone is blaming this on this President, and sort of tying it in with other immigration issues, like the ban on people from certain countries and his effort to build the wall.  Lost somewhere in translation is that the enhanced security measures began in 2016, which was before the election of the current President.

In 2016, the Obama administration directed that those MAVNI recruits face additional background screening and effectively froze the program. The last MAVNI recruits entered around October 2016, right after the additional background checks were directed. Since then, no additional recruits have joined through MAVNI, said retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock. 

Look, I get that everything is political now.  I can't even escape it in football, my liberal friends hate the Patriots because Kraft, Belichick and Brady have all been friendly on a personal level with President Trump, and my conservative friends hate the Patriots because Bob Kraft (the owner) actually used the Patriots plane to transport kids from that school in Florida to the anti-gun rally.  So I get it, this is the new reality.

But when a story like this comes out, and it's used to bash one side or the other, take time to look into it.  For instance, here is how framed it:

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Trump administration would like to shut that door, as part of its broader effort to demonize migrants and restrict immigration. Since 2001, more than 100,000 immigrants have become naturalized citizens through military service (10,400 through Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest).

No one has enlisted under MAVNI at any point under this President, so using the story to bash him is to misunderstand what is happening here.  As for closing the door, that was done several years ago, it's just that the Army can't keep people on paper for over two years while doing the background checks.  Now, there may be a legitimite issue with the background checks, I'm willing to concede that point readily.  And as a former squad leader with some non-citizen members, I am a huge fan of allowing people to earn their citizenship through this program, or any of the others which do this as well.  But the first priority of the program has to be the safety of our fighting men and women, and ensuring that the military maintains its strongest possible war-fighting capability.  And while one can argue that perhaps the security measures are too stringent, they were enacted at a time when we had a number of Green on Blue attacks and AQ was telling people to try to enlist to do insider attacks.  

This doesn't take away from the heroism and dedication of foreign nationals who have served and continue to serve in our military, the simple fact is that the military does background checks of citizens and non-citizens, and while a criminal and historical background check on a US citizen is generally an easy proposition, it is considerably less so when it is a foreign national.

Posted in the burner | 6 comments
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It was noted that some of the background investigations have been ongoing for up to two years. Since the start of the Trump administration, have the appropriations for background investigators (and the number of staff devoted to this work) gone up, down, or remained the same?

Your facts are wrong. As a security manager for active duty Army I can attest that active duty Soldiers are indeed being released from service over this. They were cleared for basic training once they had passed certain federal background checks but their MAVNI investigations continue during their first assignment. They are currently restricted from leaving their first duty station, even if unaccompanied, without a G-1 waiver.

As a Reserve Officer, I am somewhat surprised by the push back against the Legion for seeking to clarify a news issue that is obviously biased in its reporting when it seeks to leave the impression that this is a nefarious thing the Trump Administration is doing. The American Legion is not a political organization, but one that seeks to find truth and represent us former service members and current active duty people at all levels of life. The one thing that does concern me probably due to my ignorance (and perhaps Cpt.
Noronha can clarify) is the delays in clearing up and/or verifying the "security" issues. Is the responsibility placed on the individual service members to get the "answers" to the security issues? or does the military take a pro-active role in sending someone "in country" to talk to those citizens for which there is a security concern?
Anyway, thanks for the article. Truth is truth whether one likes it or not - regardless of one's political leanings.

Thank you and I agree.  I'd also like some clarification from Cpt. Noronho.  It's entirely possible I have my facts wrong, but if I do it's because they are being reported wrong.  I was unabler to find Active Duty members who were being tossed who had attended Basic, but he says there are, and I have no reason to disblieve what he is saying, but I need something concrete.

When reading the news re: anything Trump, keep in mind that the left will do or say anything to demean this C-in-C. In most articles the facts are left out that most of the programs on anything were already on the books and this administration is doing nothing more than enforcing the requirements of those programs. Which includes deep background checks for foreign nationals. The last administration did not seem to be terribly interested in doing this, until the end of the 2nd term for whatever reason.
Facts need to be the guiding principle in judging the actions of any administration. Something sorely misssing in the MSM and others.

I first enlisted in 1969, when the military services did their own background investigations. It took 13 months for me to get my first clearance. Over the next 45 years, responsibility for clearance investigations moved from the Army,, to the Defense Security Service, and finally to the Office of Personnel management. My clearance lapsed in 2014. In 2016 I took a job requiring a security clearance, and my employer submitted a request for an updated investigation. OPM put an indefinite delay on it, due to more pressing workload. Earlier this year, I received notice that I was put back on the pending investigations list, but that I could expect to wait a year or more until they got around to me. Delays are nothing new.

I like the idea of foreigners earning citizenship by serving in the military, but my experience as a counter-intelligence agent shows me that it is a very tempting path for foreign agents to try to exploit to our detriment.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.