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U.S. Army halts discharge of immigrant recruits, for now

The Associated Press

In this July 3 file photo, a Pakistani recruit, who was recently discharged from the U.S. Army, holds an American flag as he poses for a picture.

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship — at least temporarily.

A memo shared with The Associated Press spells out orders to high-ranking army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program.

“Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” read the memo signed July 20 by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.

The disclosure comes one month after AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts canceled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

In a statement Thursday, Army Lt. Col. Nina L. Hill said they were stopping the discharges in order to review the administrative separation process. The decision could impact hundreds of enlistees.

“We continue to abide by all requirements to include completing a thorough background investigation” on all recruits, she said.

The army has reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued. Attorneys sought to bring a class action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

A judge’s order references the July 20 memo, and asks the army to clarify how it impacts the discharge status of Calixto and other plaintiffs. As part of the memo, Williams also instructed army officials to recommend whether the military should issue further guidance related to the program.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said Wednesday the memo proves there was a policy.

“It’s an admission by the army that they’ve improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers,” she said. “The next step should be go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged.”

Discharged recruits and reservists reached Thursday said their discharges were still in place as far as they knew.

One Pakistani man caught by surprise by his discharge said he was filing for asylum. He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee.

The reversal comes as the Defense Department has attempted to strengthen security requirements for the program, through which historically, immigrants vowed to risk their lives for the promise of U.S. citizenship.Speech

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