Keep Promise to Military Recruits

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

The United States lauds its military members and veterans, only to let them down when it comes to delivering on health care and additional obligations.

President Donald Trump promises strong support for the armed forces and veterans.

“I pledge my unwavering support for you, for your families and your missions. I will always have your back,” Trump said during a Fourth of July military-appreciation speech on the South Lawn of the White House.

A Pentagon recommendation to cancel contracts with thousands of recruits strains that pledge.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds the proposal — and the future of legal-immigrant military specialists — in his hands.

The armed forces recruited the specialists for their education, ability and knowledge in particular fields, including medicine, language and computer science. In exchange for military service, the recruits were to become U.S. citizens.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which they were promised citizenship for service, has fallen out of favor under the Trump administration.


Mattis and Trump should support MAVNI. To do otherwise would make a mockery of the military.

Of 4,200 recruits whose status is uncertain, about 1,000 face deportation if the program is revoked.

The Pentagon and Trump bureaucracies dawdled, allowing residency permits to lapse. Those permits would have been moot, had the government kept its word to put the recruits in service.

The proposal from the Pentagon to Mattis expresses concern over “the potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to foreign intelligence services,” reports National Public Radio. The Pentagon says this makes the MAVNI program too risky.

The record says otherwise.

Trauma surgeon Kusuma Nio was selected to be part of a U.S. Army Reserve deployment to Afghanistan in May, reports Stars and Stripes. Nio’s citizenship ceremony was postponed April 13, with no new date set. Nio said the Citizenship Immigration Services told him the Department of Defense has suspended all such agreements. He was not allowed to ship out with his unit, the 1st Forward Surgical Team of New York.

Nio was born in Indonesia. He trained in surgery and earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He lives in Springfield, Illinois.

He is trusted and relied upon to carry out civilian emergency-surgery work in a Level 1 trauma center. His medical-trauma abilities match the great need for military surgeons in Afghanistan.

Like Nio, Ameya Kulkarni of Pittsburgh drills with the Army Reserve — in his case, the 340th Engineer Company. Kulkarni is a software engineer for an information-management company in the city.

He enlisted in March 2016 under a MAVNI agreement, reports the Tribune-Review of Warrendale, Pennsylvania.

Progress halted when Kulkarni’s recruiter told him the Army plans to subject him to a counterintelligence review.

That is counterintuitive. Kulkarni told the Tribune-Review that he passed a Tier 5 security-clearance investigation. Tier 5 is the top security level. It includes clearance for critical-sensitive, special-sensitive and top-secret material.

In 2008, Kulkarni traveled from his native India to study computer science at the University of Florida. He graduated with a master’s degree in 2010 and moved to Pittsburgh in 2015.

“I would like to contribute in the field of military intelligence or cybersecurity,” Kulkarni said.


The Department of Defense “ordered ‘extreme vetting’ of MAVNIs and told USCIS not to naturalize any MAVNIs until the vetting was complete,” program creator Margaret Stock told the Tribune-Review. USCIS is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“At the same time, DOD says it doesn’t have the resources to do the vetting that was ordered,” Stock said. “Hence, no MAVNI can ship to training and no MAVNI can get naturalized.”

Stock drew up the MAVNI program in 2007, during the administration of President George W. Bush. She presented it to the Pentagon. Stock ran the program in 2008, under the new administration of President Barack Obama. She did so for a one-year pilot with 1,000 recruits, after which the program reached full status. MAVNI has brought in about 10,400 recruits since 2009.

Stock is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an immigration lawyer in Alaska. She has three degrees from Harvard University and another from the U.S. Army War College. She taught law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Worry over security risks with MAVNI recruits is exaggerated, Stock told NPR. “If you were a bad guy who wanted to infiltrate the Army, you wouldn’t risk the many levels of vetting required in this program.”

Mattis, the defense secretary who is a retired Marine general, must know that the history of incorporating noncitizens into the armed forces goes back to the nation’s first days. In World War I, 20 percent of those in the military were noncitizens.

Security make sense, but not to the point of casting one’s feet in concrete. Consider that citizens and holders of green cards — noncitizens who are classified as permanent residents — can serve in the armed forces without any of the scrutiny proposed for the MAVNI recruits.

Mattis should follow his training and experience. Trump should keep his promise to back up the military.

They should continue the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, with a workable level of security investigation. Any opposing decision would dishonor the military and the nation.

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