The Pentagon could play a major role in ensuring the deportation of immigrants without legal status in the U.S. if it chooses to pass information on military recruits along to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Pentagon has recruited around 10,000 people to be part of the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which is aimed at offering fast-tracked U.S. citizenship for military recruits who could offer skills in which the U.S. armed forces were lacking, according to the Washington Post. Such skills include language abilities and medical services.
The Post obtained a Defense Department memo for Defense Secretary James Mattis that proposed canceling the enlistment contracts for 1,800 foreign-born recruits who are yet to begin training. Of those foreign-born recruits, 1,000 have already seen their legal status in the U.S. expire while waiting for their military training to begin.
"It's terrible. You trusted the Army, who delayed the process, and now they're going to cancel your contract and have you deported," Margaret Stock, a former officer involved in establishing the MAVNI program, told the Post.
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A Defense Department spokesman told the Post that program requirements were being reviewed but refused to confirm the existence of the memo or the content of any ongoing discussions within the Pentagon.
MAVNI recruits are already subjected to enhanced security screening. According to the findings of this process, 30 percent of them had "unmitigable derogatory information" that would prevent them from serving.
Such a description generally refers to people with a relative working for a foreign government or, in some cases, people who have foreign relatives.
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"It's okay to investigate someone with a legitimate security threat," added Stock. "But share a characteristic they don't like, which is they're foreigners. They're going to be treated as second-class citizens for their entire career."
Stock argued such targeted surveillance could break the law.
"You can't treat people with a certain characteristic differently," Stock said. "You don't do surveillance on everyone who is Irish-American because Mike Flynn broke the law when talking to the Russians."
The information held by the Pentagon on the troops affected includes their names, addresses and phone numbers. This means ICE would be in a strong position to arrest such individuals if the organization receives the information.
The authors of the memo stated that the resources required to perform security checks on the MAVNI recruits were too great.
However, Professor Lenni Benson, who teaches immigration law at New York Law School, disputed that point. She told Law News that the memo's recommendation would be a "foolish action" because the necessary security checks were already in place.
Benson pointed out that individuals lose their privacy rights when they are recruited, meaning that it is easier for the government to keep track of them. Additionally, she suggested that the shortage of personnel that would result from canceling the program would represent a bigger national security risk than keeping the program alive.