Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
The Army has ended enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born recruits, risking deportation for some, the Washington Post reported Friday, citing several affected recruits and former officials familiar with their situation.
The contracts were ended so recruiters could focus on individuals who could potentially move more quickly through the time-intensive enlistment process, recruits and experts told the newspaper.
Many of the recruits were part of a previous push to attract skilled immigrants in fields such as medicine and language into the military in exchange for fast-tracked citizenship, the Washington Post reported.
The Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, program began in 2009 and aimed to recruit “certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest,” according to the Defense Department website.
The Pentagon on Friday pushed back against the Post’s story, saying Army recruiters had no incentive to remove recruits who joined via the MAVNI program.
Instead, the law requires the Army to discharge a recruit who has not shipped to initial military training within two years, said Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, a Defense Department spokesman, in a statement.
“Unfortunately, some MAVNI pilot program recruits have been unable to complete the increased security screening required by the Department of Defense to ship to training within two years of enlistment,” Haverstick said.
MAVNI recruits in the delayed entry program are not discharged prior to the end of the two-year period unless they request it, are unable to complete the required security screening requirements within the statutory timeline, or are found unsuitable for military service during the course of the screening, Haverstick said.
The Army has about 1,600 recruits contracted through the MAVNI program who were currently working to complete the security screening, Haverstick said.
The Defense Department, under then-Secretary Ash Carter, suspended the MAVNI program last September after an internal investigation into the security vulnerabilities in the program, according to DoD.
While DoD is not accepting new applicants, it is continuing to process existing MAVNI recruits who are waiting to report for initial training, Haverstick said.
Hundreds of recruits in the enlistment process could be affected, Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer and immigration lawyer who spearheaded MAVNI told the Washington Post.
A recruiter told Stock that there is pressure from the Army Reserve to meet recruiting numbers before the end of the fiscal year.
“It’s a dumpster fire ruining people’s lives. The magnitude of incompetence is beyond belief,” Stock told the Washington Post. “We have a war going on. We need these people.”
MAVNI faced problems earlier this summer as well.
In June, a Defense Department memo cited possible security concerns with foreign-born recruits. The internal memo sent to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted that 1,000 recruits awaiting active-duty training were at risk for deportation.
The memo cited problems with MAVNI, such as the diversion of “already constrained Army fiscal and manpower resources.” Extra resources are often devoted to the background investigations of recruits with knowledge of highly sought after languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Pashto, but who were also born in areas that garner extra scrutiny during the investigative process.
Since its implementation, the MAVNI program has resulted in the recruitment of nearly 11,000 recruits.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer