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First discharge, then deportation?

Compassion | U.S. Army suspends immigrant discharges but some service members stuck in limbo
by Rob Holmes
Posted 8/15/18, 04:50 pm

The U.S. Army recently changed its practices after public reports noted it forcibly discharged dozens of legal immigrants seeking a path to citizenship.

Earlier this summer, immigrants in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program said they were discharged, some without explanation and others because they were a security risk due to foreign relatives or incomplete background checks. It’s unclear exactly how many MAVNI participants were discharged.

“Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” stated a July 20 memo from Marshall Williams, acting assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. The document was made public last Wednesday as part of a court filing.

MAVNI began in 2008 as a special recruiting program to enlist immigrants with medical or language skills the military needed. Recruits had to have lawful immigration status and U.S. residence. Nearly 10,000 people entered the military through MAVNI before it was suspended in 2017. The military at that time said it needed to focus on more rigorous background checks of those men and women already in the pipeline.

Since last September, about 1,100 recruits remain in limbo, in some cases with contracts but not yet fully vetted or able to begin basic training.

In a statement released last Thursday, an Army spokesperson said the now-halted discharges were not part of any new official policy and the military was reviewing the administrative separation process.

Since then-President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers after the 9/11 attacks, more than 125,000 lawful immigrants have become U.S. citizens because of their service in the armed forces. President Donald Trump spoke during his 2016 campaign in favor of citizenship in exchange for military service, even for well-vetted undocumented immigrants.

The military is walking a fine line between the need for recruits and the need for stringent security protocol. Some of the more strict and time-consuming security checks date back to when the Obama administration added participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the list of immigrants allowed to take the military-to-citizenship path despite their not having lawful status in the United States. (DACA covers immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.)

In one case, government attorneys said 17 foreign-born military recruits who enlisted through the MAVNI program were not able to clear additional security requirements. Some had falsified background records or were connected to state-sponsored intelligence agencies, according to a court filing.

Discharged recruits and reservists said last week their discharges were still in place as far as they knew. Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, who is an immigration attorney, said the Army should rescind the orders of the immigrants it discharged.

“Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,” she said. “We wouldn’t have won the Revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”

Associated Press/Photo by Matt York Associated Press/Photo by Matt York A Customs and Border Patrol agent talks to Guatemalan nationals July 18 in Yuma, Ariz.

Safer encounters

An expanded curriculum at the Border Patrol Academy teaches new agents to be “humanitarians first,” said Dan Harris Jr., head of the school in Artesia, N.M. Use-of-force training increased from 58 to 94 hours, with an emphasis on less lethal methods of force.

Harris told CNN that a new curriculum prepares recruits to defend the border but also ensure safe encounters with the more than 1 million illegal immigrants Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) apprehends each year, most of whom speak only Spanish.

Extended from three to six months, the new program includes not only law courses and firearms training, but physical fitness, vehicle skills, and task-focused Spanish language training, even for Latino trainees. Latinos now make up half of all field agents.

The beefed-up CBP training program follows a congressional mandate to boost the number of border agents from 19,400 to 21,370. President Donald Trump’s January 2017 executive order went even further, calling for an additional 5,000 CBP agents and 10,000 recruits for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. With an average class numbering 20-some graduates, hundreds of new CBP classes are needed.

During June and July, agents patrolling along the U.S. southwestern border prevented 42 smuggling attempts and rescued 406 people, saving them from possible death due to sizzling summer heat. U.S. Border Patrol Acting Chief Carla L. Provost spoke of the benefits of improved training for CBP agents: “These rescues are a result of stepped-up enforcement at our immigration checkpoints coupled with our search and rescue efforts that are key to preventing unnecessary loss of life.” —R.H.

U.S. opioid births quadruple

Between 1999 and 2014, the rate of American women giving birth to babies while addicted to opioids quadrupled, The Guardian reported.

“Each case represents a mother, a child, and a family in need of continued treatment and support,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A report disseminated by the CDC details the awful increase of infants exposed to drugs in the womb and forced to go into withdrawal at birth. Opioid-addicted infants stay in the hospital an average of 17 days after birth, creating a dramatic need for care and a huge increase in cost, The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2016.

Certain states saw a rise in opioid births even greater than the U.S. average: Vermont, Maine, New Mexico, and West Virginia ranked the worst, with the latter two among the 10 states with the worst poverty. Maine and West Virginia also have the highest number of deaths due to opioid overdose. —R.H.

Back to court

A court ruling will allow a Mexican woman to sue a Customs and Border Patrol agent who shot and killed her son from across the border.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Arizona CBP agent Lonnie Swartz does not have immunity in the 2012 shooting death of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The 16-year-old boy took 10 bullets in the back as Swartz fired up to 30 times at him. Araceli Rodriguez, the teen’s mother, said her son was “peacefully walking down the Calle Internacional,” a street in Nogales, Mexico, on the other side of the border fence.

“Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, Swartz violated the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld wrote. “It is inconceivable that any reasonable officer could have thought that he or she could kill J.A. for no reason.”

A jury previously found Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder charges in the death, which he claimed occurred when he responded to people throwing rocks through the border fence. The jury did not reach a verdict on whether Swartz was guilty of lesser charges such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, and a retrial on those charges is scheduled for Oct. 23, according to —R.H.

Time to vote

One of WORLD’s distinctive coverage areas is poverty fighting, which is why WORLD Digital publishes this weekly roundup called “Compassion.” Another way we bring attention to the topic is to conduct our annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion, where we share the stories of Christian poverty-fighting organizations that offer challenging, personal, and spiritual help to those in need but do not rely on government funding.

We profile these ministries in our magazine and on our podcast, but then we turn to you—our readers and listeners—to select the one you believe deserves the $10,000 grand prize. All five regional winners are worthy and benefit greatly from the exposure and attention they receive, but now we need your assistance by voting for the ministry that moves you the most. —Mickey McLean

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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