AILSA CHANG, HOST:
For decades, immigrants have served in the U.S. military. Under President George W. Bush, an immigrant recruitment program was created to allow the military to enlist people with specialized skills. Over 10,000 have served because of that program, which was ended by President Trump. Enlisting guaranteed a path to citizenship for these immigrants. But this week, the U.S. Army discharged some immigrant recruits and reservists, citing unfavorable security screenings. Margaret Stock is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army and is now an immigration lawyer. I asked her exactly who is being targeted.
MARGARET STOCK: Some of them are reservists who enlisted more than two years ago. So they have a military ID card. In many cases, they have uniforms. They have been going to their unit training assemblies. They've been getting paid. They've got life insurance and healthcare. And then the other group of people are what we call active-duty future soldiers. And so after waiting for several years to ship out to training, these active-duty soldiers are also being told that they are no longer welcome in the military. And many of them have been going to active-duty future soldier training for several years. They've been...
STOCK: ...Excitedly anticipating going to their training and starting their careers in the military. Some of them signed up for five or six-year active-duty enlistments.
CHANG: Now, before enlisting, the requirement is you have to be a legal resident in the U.S., right?
STOCK: For this program, you had to have the right papers. And every person in the program, before they signed an enlistment contract, was individually vetted by the Department of Homeland Security before they enlisted.
CHANG: And tell me about some of the people who enlisted. What are their backgrounds under this program?
STOCK: Well, they're quite diverse. They tend to be highly educated. They don't have a criminal record. Some of them have PhDs, master's degrees. Many of them are doctors or other healthcare professionals licensed in the United States. You know, all across the board. I mean, they're really super people, extremely high-quality compared to the usual recruit pool that the Army sees.
CHANG: We actually spoke to one of the reservists who received a phone call. He asked not to be identified by name. And this is how he describes the government's reasons for discharging him.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: The only problem in my background checks is my foreign ties. These foreign ties are explained as my parents live in Pakistan, and my fiance lives in Pakistan. And these are the reasons on the basis of which I've been denied, or, you know, I've been declared unfavorable for military.
CHANG: Foreign ties - what do you make of that justification for his discharge?
STOCK: It doesn't make any sense because - and I took a look at the papers - he shared them with me - I - that shows the reasons why they are discharging him. And the paperwork just said, foreign ties. But they're ordinary, normal ties that any immigrant would have.
CHANG: I imagine there are many members in the military who have foreign ties.
STOCK: There are many members of the military who are married to foreigners, have children born in foreign countries, have parents who are foreigners, brothers and sisters (laughter) who are foreigners. It's very common in a global military like the United States military that people will have foreign ties.
CHANG: We understand that 40 or so people who received phone calls informing them that they were getting discharged were told by the government that the government had, quote, "unfavorable information" on them. But there was no explanation as to what that information was.
STOCK: Well, that's the - what the Pentagon does in these cases. They don't give the person any information about why they're being discharged. They don't give them an opportunity to rebut the information or explain it. They tell them nothing. And the only reason that individual you quoted got it was because he separately filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act for a copy of the record.
CHANG: Why do you think this is all happening now?
STOCK: I think it's happening because there's been a breakdown in management at the Department of Defense and at the office of the Under Secretary of Personnel and Readiness. They're not capable of managing the program correctly, and they can't do all the background checks that they ordered. So the solution is just get rid of these people because it's too much trouble to process them.
CHANG: Margaret Stock is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army and an immigration lawyer in Anchorage, Ala. Thank you very much for joining us.
STOCK: Thank you for having me on your show. And I hope the public learns more about the program. It's really bad for national security that they're not letting these immigrants into the military.
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