MAVNI in Limbo

February 7, 2018 9:35 am
by David Jakeman

Thousands of immigrants who have lined up to serve in the US military now find themselves facing possible deportation. It’s not their fault. They have done what military recruiters and personnel have instructed them to do, but the political winds have shifted, and they are the potential fall guys.

Since 2009, MAVNI has been a special program that gives non-citizens an expedited path to US citizenship in exchange for their military service, if they possess medical or linguistic skills that the military is in need of. More people have been interested in applying than there are available slots.

A Raised Security Bar for MAVNI

Due to concerns about adequate background checks, heightened security screenings were added to the MAVNI process late during the Obama administration. These additional security checks caused huge delays for a number of MAVNI applicants. Without passing the security clearances, they couldn’t even begin basic training, so they found themselves stuck waiting. They were placed in the Delayed Entry Program, or DEP.

However, for many applicants, they could wait only so long before their current visas expired. However, they were assured by the military that it was okay to allow their immigration status to lapse because they had signed an enlistment contract with the military and they would be taken care of. For example, many students found themselves in this situation. As a result, there are over a thousand enlistees who cannot ship out to basic training because the security clearances are taking so long who no longer have legal status in the United States.

MAVNI’s Uncertain Status

Now with a new president in office, the stance towards MAVNI has changed. The program has been put on hold indefinitely for security review. At first, military officials were optimistic that the program would soon be back up and running, but over the summer, a memo was obtained by The Washington Post that showed that the military was strongly considering shutting down the program, although it did say it was considering implementing elements of MAVNI in a different program.1

The memo acknowledges the fact that there are at least a thousand enlistees whose immigration status has lapsed. It also recognizes that there will most certainly be legal challenges to its proposed course of action. However, the memo still recommends cancelling all DEP contracts and all delayed training program (DTP) contracts for reservists. It made no mention of whether or not it would provide any avenues to help mitigate the visa issues that so many people face, so at present, even an immigration attorney in Honolulu or elsewhere isn’t going to have much advice.

Cancelling the enlistment contracts of 3200 people shows bad faith on the part of the military. It is certainly important to ensure that no one who would be a security concern is able to infiltrate the military. It is also important to honor the commitments made. The men and women who signed up to serve the United States have put careers and education on hold. They’ve been assured they would be taken care of as they served the country they love. To turn around, break promises, and leave these service members vulnerable to deportation is a cruel betrayal of the military motto, “Leave no man behind.”

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