In the past, presidents have used the Fourth of July holiday to host naturalization ceremonies for U.S. military members, as military service has long been a promised path to citizenship. But President Trump has yet to carry on the tradition and may in fact be shutting the door on some immigrant recruits' quest for citizenship. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the U.S. Army has "abruptly discharged" some immigrant recruits and reservists who'd enlisted under a program that promised a pathway to citizenship in exchange for their service.
"It was my dream to serve in the military," Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant reservist who came to the United States at the age of 12, told the Associated Press. "Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military... Now the great feeling I had when I enlisted is going down the drain. I don't understand why this is happening."
Calixto recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army alleging he'd been discharged without just reason and denied the opportunity to appeal. And according to the Associated Press, Calixto is not the only immigrant recruit to challenge their discharge in a court of law.
Immigration attorneys told the Associated Press that they knew of more than 40 immigrant reservists and recruits who had recently been discharged or told their status was in question. The news outlet, however, said it was unable to uncover exactly how many immigrant service members may have been discharged beyond that number since President Trump's inauguration.
According to the report, some of the recently discharged immigrant reservists and recruits were, like Calixto, not presented with a reason for their discharge. Others were reportedly told that incomplete background checks or family members still residing in their countries of origin made them a security risk. Those who spoke with the Associated Press said their discharges had been "unexpected" and left them "devastated."
While it's unclear just how many immigrant recruits and reservists may have recently been discharged and why, it appears their dismissal may have not only ended their perceived pathway to citizenship, but potentially jeopardized their immigration status as well.
According to the Associated Press, the immigrants recently discharged were handed an "uncharacterized discharge," meaning their release was classified as neither dishonorable nor honorable. The Department of Defense told the news outlet that only immigrant service members currently serving or holding an honorable discharge are granted deportation protection.
But some, like conservative national security analyst John Noonan, have questioned the news outlet's report, saying the roughly 40 immigrant recruits reported to have been recently discharged doesn't indicate a pattern. Washington Post reporter Alex Horton, however, has argued the Associated Press' report aligns with information The Post uncovered last year regarding the U.S. Army "arbitrarily killing contracts for hundreds of noncitizens, often deceitfully or without explanation."
Immigrants aren't a recent addition to the U.S. military. In fact, the Department of Defense has stated that "non-citizens" have fought and served in the military since the Revolutionary War. The agency has also noted that it has, at various times throughout history, officially recruited immigrants into the U.S. military.
In 2002, then-President George W. Bush signed an executive order granting "expedited naturalization" to immigrants who served in the U.S. military as a means of boosting recruitment numbers. Defense Department numbers show that nearly 110,000 people have gained U.S. citizenship through military service since September 2001, according to the Associated Press.
In 2008, the military created the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, under which all of the immigrants recently facing uncharacterized discharges were recruited. The program aimed to offer a pathway to citizenship to immigrants who possessed desirable and much-needed skills such as medical or military specialists and foreign-language speakers.
But many became critical of MAVNI after former President Barack Obama extended the list of eligible recruits to include DACA recipients. More recently, the Trump administration tightened vetting measures for immigrant recruits, slowing their pathway to citizenship, before ultimately suspending MAVNI altogether.
Both the Pentagon and U.S. Army told the Associated Press that pending litigation made it so the agencies could not comment on either the discharges or the potential existence of any policy changes regarding immigrant recruits.