500 Immigrant Recruits Kicked Out Of The Army In 12 Months

United States government effort to recruit soldiers during World War I. Image by James Montgomery Flagg.

The AP has found that over 500 immigrant recruits have been discharged from the Army in a 12 month span. The enlistees were recruited from around the world for their skills – medical and language – and promised citizenship for their military service, within the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program. 

MAVNI is a program that came into existence from President George Bush’s push to expedite naturalization for immigrants to increase recruitment after 9/11. MANVI became the official recruiting program in 2009. President Obama allowed enlistment under DACA and additional security clearances were added, per The Hill.

Before enlisting, eligible recruits must have legal status, i.e. a student visa. Many immigrant enlistees go into the army, but others serve in the other military branches. 10,000 immigrant recruits are estimated to be currently serving, with more than 5,000 being recruited in 2016.

In 2016, MANVI was suspended when the program was assessed to be “vulnerable to an unacceptable level of risk from insider threats such as espionage, terrorism, and other criminal activity”. The Trump Administration requirements of longer enlistments and new security measures created a backlog, resulting in recruits waiting a year to complete the process. Last year, the Army began quietly discharging immigrant recruits.

The Department of Defense does not comment on individual cases but the Army has released a list, with redacted personal information, which has allowed an examination of the reasons for discharges. The list, submitted last month to the US District Court for the District of Columbia by the Army, lists 502 enlistees under MAVNI who were discharged from July 2017 and July 2018. The list states “refuse to enlist” as the cause for discharge of two-thirds of the recruits. 

However, one of the recruits interviewed by AP, whose paperwork lists “refuse to enlist” as the reason for his discharge, says that is 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.


48 service members were discharged after an unfavorable security screening. This can be because the recruit has family members in another country or because the military did not complete the screening in a reasonable time.

Subpar performance and conduct were the cause of twenty-two percent of the discharges. Pentagon spokesewoman Carla Gleason noted injury is included in that category of discharge.

Apathy or personal problems were the cause of three discharges, two were discharged for police encounters, one for pregnacy and one for education, possibly an opportunity to attend college.  Two of the discharges had declined to ship to boot camp and two had “unknown” listed as the explanation for discharge. The Defense Department could not explain that reason, the AP reports.

Army spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell explained in a statement that if a recruit has not started active duty, the Army has “the authority to separate the individual and terminate the contract”. However, all of the recruits discharged had committed to active duty or service in the reserves and the AP points out that many had been preparing for boot camp by training and drilling with their recruiters while awaiting security clearances.

As enlistees were being discharged, litigation began and the Department of Defense stopped processing the discharges in September. They also reinstated more than three dozen recruits who had been booted.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters “We need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve,” and said he supports MAVNI. 

The discharged recruits the AP spoke to were devastated.

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.”

A Chinese immigrant and Ph.D student at Texas A&M, Panshu Zhao, said, “It’s just like you’re dropped from heaven to hell.”

The immigration and national security law expert, Margaret Stock, who helped create MAVNI, says the Army is “trying to get rid of people” and is depriving enlistees of their right to appeal.

The Pentagon disagrees and spokeswoman Carla Gleason explained how the DoD is striving to vet the recruits.

“Because of the Department’s desire to honor the commitments it has made to its MAVNI recruits, the Department is working diligently and with all deliberate speed to complete all background investigations for the MAVNI population,” Gleason said.

She added that “while the vetting process takes time, it is essential to national security.”

The Hill

Mark Esper, Army Secretary, states that about 80 percent of recruits in the MAVNI program who complete the screening process were enlisted. He noted the process is never quick enough but the Army must “exercise due diligence, to make sure we understand who is coming into our ranks and just do that.”

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