Some immigrant US Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged. The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures. Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. 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. Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army said that, due to a pending lawsuit, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes.
Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the US, such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. It's unclear how the service members' discharges could affect their status as legal immigrants. In a statement, the Defense Department said: "All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation." However, immigration attorneys said many immigrants let go in recent weeks were an "uncharacterized discharge," neither dishonorable nor honorable. "There were so many tears in my eyes that my hands couldn't move fast enough to wipe them away," a 22-year-old Pakistani service member tells the AP of learning his military career was over. "I love the US and was so honored to be able to serve this great country." (Read more US Army stories.)