BOSTON – The Army’s abrupt discharges of immigrant recruits may not be over after all.
Faced with legal challenges from some recruits who said they had been expelled unfairly on specious security grounds, the Army suspended the discharges over the summer and said it would re-examine its policy. But an internal Army e-mail message obtained by the New York Times suggests that the Army may be looking for different grounds for expelling the recruits that would sidestep the litigation.
The recruits had signed up for a program known as Military Accessions Vital to National Interests, or MAVNI, which offered legal immigrants with vital language or medical skills a fast track to citizenship in exchange for military service. About 11,000 troops have joined the armed forces through the program since it started in 2008.
The Defense Department ended the program in 2016, citing security concerns, and imposed strict new screening on thousands of recruits who had already signed enlistment contracts for the program but had not yet begun basic training. The Army flagged many of them as security risks, even when other federal agencies had cleared them for more sensitive jobs in the civilian world.
One was Igor Gavrish, 24, a Russian immigrant who passed stringent background checks to work with deadly viruses in a laboratory where he must have his iris scanned twice to gain entry. He tried to join the Army Reserve, but the Army classified him as a major security risk.
Another immigrant from Russia, Pavel Astashkin, was classified as potentially too risky, even though he is an airline pilot who has passed several federal security checks and regularly flies over the White House and the Pentagon.
“It makes no sense,” he said. “The Army recruits us for our foreign ties, then refuses to use us because of them.”
After a group of recruits sued this summer, the Army said it planned to “conduct a review of the administrative separation process.”
The internal Army e-mail suggests that the Army has been using the time since then to have military lawyers pore through the immigrant recruits’ records, looking for possible crimes that could be used to force them out. The e-mail, sent in mid-August, asked for volunteers to search the recruits’ security files “to determine whether the applicants admitted to or provided information about a crime.”
A Defense Department spokeswoman denied that the purpose was to force out recruits. The spokeswoman, Maj. Carla Gleason, said the legal reviews requested in the e-mail were canceled a few days after the order went out.