Lawmakers press Trump not to deport foreign-born military recruits
By ALEX HORTON | The Washington Post | Published: June 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — Two lawmakers are pressing President Donald Trump to intervene on a Pentagon proposal to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 immigrant recruits, raising the specter of their deportation if the White House remains silent.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., demanded personal assurances from Trump to shield military recruits who have signed enlistment contracts but have seen their visas expire while they wait to start training.
"I feel it is only right that we honor our contract with them, and that we allow these individuals to continue to live in America once their service has concluded," Meng said in a letter to Trump on Tuesday, referring to a Monday story from The Washington Post about internal Defense Department recommendations to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The foreign-born recruits enlisted in the military through the Pentagon's Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, an initiative to harness medical and language skills in exchange for fast-tracked citizenship.
The story provoked outrage from both chambers of Congress.
"As a country, we made a commitment to thousands of brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives in service to our great nation. I'm sad to see that with President Trump as commander in chief, even our military can't be trusted to keep its promises," Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army veteran wounded in combat, told The Post on Wednesday.
"These recruits deserve the chance to defend our freedom instead of being put at risk for deportation. Anything else is a breach of contract," she said.
Since 2009, more than 10,400 troops, most of them with service in the Army, have served in uniform with medical skills and language specialties central to established or growing areas of concern - like Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Pashto - which were identified by the Pentagon as vital to the success of military operations, but in short supply among U.S.-born troops.
A Pentagon memo obtained by The Post said layers of additional security screenings and concerns over potential threats created a logjam of applicants, which overtasked resources and led personnel officials to recommend the cancellation of contracts for about 1,800 recruits waiting to train - about 1,000 of whom hold no legal immigration status, according to the memo.
An unknown number of recruits have received deferred action from immigration authorities due to their involvement in the program, which would be reversed if the recommendations made in the memo are approved, leaving the recruits vulnerable to deportation.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Johnny Michael, a spokesman for the Pentagon, declined to comment on the letter and the ongoing discussions about the fate of the program.
Meng's letter might put Trump between two opposing forces of his campaign rhetoric. Shedding nearly 2,000 skilled troops at a time the Army seeks to beef up after recent years of personnel drawdowns could run contrary to his promise to rebuild the military to make it "so big and so strong and so great."
But Trump has also made tougher immigration policies central in his administration, with ongoing legal battles over so called-sanctuary cities and the Supreme Court recently allowing some parts of his travel ban executive order to go into effect.
Trump is reportedly aware of the ongoing issues facing foreign-born veterans who served in the U.S. military, but were deported for various crimes before they filed for naturalization through the military.
"We should do something about this," Trump recently said to congressional Democrats before his staff intervened to explain the thorny issue, according to BuzzFeed.
The Pentagon memo also recommended to Mattis that 4,100 troops already serving in the force - most of whom are naturalized citizens through the program - should face "enhanced screening" to quell concern the program could be used by infiltrators. Officials conceded it would be difficult to navigate "significant legal constraints" of "continuous monitoring" of citizens without cause, according to the memo.
In a not-so-subtle reference to Trump's campaign slogan, Meng described the recruits in danger of deportation as "patriotic" examples in need of White House intervention.
"They are exactly the type of individuals who will continue to make America great," Meng said.