For now, US Army suspends discharges of immigrant recruits

In this July 3, 2018, file photo, a Pakistani recruit, 22, who was recently discharged from the US Army, holds an American flag as he poses for a picture. The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship - at least temporarily. (AP)
Updated 09 August 2018
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For now, US Army suspends discharges of immigrant recruits

  • More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving
  • The Pentagon said there had been no specific policy change and that background checks were ongoing

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 on Wednesday and dated July 20 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.

It was not clear how many recruits were impacted by the action, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the memo.

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

The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts cancelled. 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.

Early last month, the Pentagon said there had been no specific policy change and that background checks were ongoing. And in mid-July the Army 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 Wednesday 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.

President George W. Bush ordered "expedited naturalization" for immigrant soldiers after 9/11 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.

The Trump Administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process had their contracts canceled.

Government attorneys called the recruitment program an "elevated security risk" in another case involving 17 foreign-born military recruits who enlisted through the program but have not been able to clear additional security requirements. Some recruits had falsified their background records and were connected to state-sponsored intelligence agencies, the court filing said.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., 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. Nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Defense Department.


Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 21 July 2019
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Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.