Foreign Army Enlistees In Recruitment Program Won't Be Deported, DHS Decides The immigrants were brought into the military — which offers a track to citizenship — because they provide hard-to-find skills and languages. A slow-moving vetting program had put their visas at risk.
NPR logo

ICE Drops Deportation Threat Against Chinese Student Joining U.S. Army

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/620150527/620230420" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
ICE Drops Deportation Threat Against Chinese Student Joining U.S. Army

ICE Drops Deportation Threat Against Chinese Student Joining U.S. Army

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/620150527/620230420" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now an update on a story from earlier this week. A graduate student from China joined the U.S. Army under a special program designed to recruit people with language and professional skills. The military has long been a fast track to citizenship. But in this particular case, an apparent clerical error put this man on a list for deportation back to China before he could even start basic training. After our story, it appears that the Pentagon has corrected the error. And NPR's Quil Lawrence reports the deportation case has been dropped.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The Army recognizes that it's short on health care professionals and speakers of certain languages. And in 2009, it started doing what others, like the medical field, have done. It looked to skilled immigrants. A program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, recruited thousands of foreigners in this country seeking citizenship, like a Chinese student named Shu Luo with a master's in statistics from George Washington University.

MARGARET STOCK: The Army needs people like him very badly. We need people who are fluent in Chinese and English, who have graduated from top universities in the United States and who are loyal to the United States of America.

LAWRENCE: That's Margaret Stock, a retired lieutenant colonel who helped create the MAVNI program. Nowadays, she's an immigration lawyer. In fact, she's Shu Luo's immigration lawyer because after he signed an enlistment oath, the military added stricter background checks. Those would've taken so long to clear that Luo's visa was going to run out before he could go to basic training.

Hundreds of MAVNI recruits were in the same boat. The Pentagon got a deferment for them. But Luo and some others were left out, apparently by mistake. This month, Luo was arrested and told he would be deported back to China. That would be dangerous, says his lawyer Margaret Stock.

STOCK: He was very concerned about his safety if he went back to China.

LAWRENCE: Luo has a pending asylum request. The Chinese government doesn't look kindly on nationals who swear allegiance to the U.S. Army. The Army said he should apply to a correction board which usually takes months, if not years. Immigration officials said they would move forward with deportation. Luo's case was reported in Stars and Stripes and on NPR. Now the Pentagon says his enlistment status has been corrected. And ICE has confirmed it will not proceed with deportation. Luo told NPR he's very happy he can stay in the U.S., where he feels a sense of freedom. He didn't want to speak for broadcast, but his lawyer says he's keen to finally go to basic training.

STOCK: He was very excited, very happy, very relieved not to be threatened with deportation at the moment. He's also excited to be back in the Army. He really wanted to serve and tried really hard to stay in the military. So he's quite relieved at this point.

LAWRENCE: Stock says several other MAVNI recruits were told around the same time that their cases have been corrected. None of them had yet been served with deportation proceedings.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE STATES' "HAM BHAM")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.