US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits

US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits
In this file photo, a Pakistani recruit, 22, who was recently discharged from the US Army, holds an American flag as he poses for a picture. (MIKE KNAAK/AP)
Updated 06 July 2018

US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits

US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits

SAN ANTONIO: Some immigrant US Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.
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.
“It was my dream to serve in the military,” said reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who filed a lawsuit against the Army last week. “Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military.”
Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. Others who pressed for answers 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 the pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes in any of the military branches.
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. Most go the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.
To become citizens, the service members need an honorable service designation, which can come after even just a few days at boot camp. But the recently discharged service members have had their basic training delayed, so they can’t be naturalized.
Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said she’s been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged.
All had signed enlistment contracts and taken an Army oath, Stock said. Many were reservists who had been attending unit drills, receiving pay and undergoing training, while others had been in a “delayed entry” program, she said.
“Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,” Stock said. “We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”
Stock said the service members she’s heard from had been told the Defense Department had not managed to put them through extensive background checks, which include CIA, FBI and National Intelligence Agency screenings and counterintelligence interviews. Therefore, by default, they do not meet the background check requirement.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” she said.
The AP interviewed Calixto and recruits from Pakistan and Iran, all of whom said they were devastated by their unexpected discharges.
“Now the great feeling I had when I enlisted is going down the drain,” said Calixto, 28. “I don’t understand why this is happening.”
In hopes of undoing the discharge, he filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., last week alleging the Defense Department hadn’t given him a chance to defend himself or appeal. He said he was given no specific grounds other than “personnel security.”
Calixto, who lives in Massachusetts and came to the US when he was 12, said in an email interview arranged through his attorney that he joined the Army out of patriotism.
In the suit, Calixto said he learned he was being kicked out soon after he was promoted to private second class.
The Pakistani service member who spoke to the AP said he learned in a phone call a few weeks ago that his military career was over.
“There were so many tears in my eyes that my hands couldn’t move fast enough to wipe them away,” he said. “I was devastated, because I love the US and was so honored to be able to serve this great country.”
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 US Army enlistee.
Portions of the 22-year-old’s military file reviewed by the AP said he was so deeply loyal to the US that his relationships with his family and fiancee in Pakistan would not make him a security threat. Nonetheless, the documents show the Army cited those foreign ties as a concern.
The man had enlisted in April 2016 anticipating he’d be a citizen within months, but faced a series of delays. He had been slated to ship out to basic training in January 2017, but that also was delayed.
An Iranian citizen who came to the US for a graduate degree in engineering told the AP that he enlisted in the program hoping to gain medical training. He said he had felt proud that he was “pursuing everything legally and living an honorable life.”
In recent weeks, he said, he learned that he’d been discharged.
“It’s terrible because I put my life in the line for this country, but I feel like I’m being treated like trash,” he said. “If I am not eligible to become a US citizen, I am really scared to return to my country.”
He spoke on condition of anonymity because of those fears.
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 told the AP that many immigrants let go in recent weeks were an “uncharacterized discharge,” neither dishonorable nor honorable.
The service members affected by the recent discharges all enlisted in recent years under a special program aimed at bringing medical specialists and fluent speakers of 44 sought-after languages into the military. The idea, according to the Defense Department, was to “recognize their contribution and sacrifice.”
President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers in 2002 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 US illegally — 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. A few months later, the military suspended MAVNI.
Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, who has supported legislation to limit the program, told the AP that MAVNI was established by executive order and never properly authorized by Congress.
“Our military must prioritize enlisting American citizens, and restore the MAVNI program to its specialized, limited scope,” he said.
Non-US citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, when Continental soldiers included Irish, French and Germans. The US recruited Filipino nationals to serve in the Navy in the 1940s, and worked to enlist Eastern Europeans in the military over the next decade, according to the Defense Department.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the US military, according to the Defense Department.
Many service members recruited through the program have proven to be exemplary. In 2012, then-Sgt. Saral K. Shrestha, originally from Nepal, was named US Army Soldier of the Year.
In general, the immigrant recruits have been more cost-effective, outperforming their fellow soldiers in the areas of attrition, performance, education and promotions, according to a recently released review by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution.
The AP spoke with a 26-year-old woman from Dominica who said she proudly enlisted in the immigrant recruitment program in 2016 while earning her nursing degree. She said she drilled each month with her reserve unit, which gave her an award, and had been awaiting a date to start basic training.
But in March, she said she looked up her profile on an Army portal and saw that the section about her security eligibility was marked “loss of jurisdiction,” with no further explanation. The next month, her attorney said she found the reservist’s name listed as “unsuitable” on a spreadsheet created by the Defense Department.
The reservist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about her legal standing, said she received additional paperwork last month that indicated her case is awaiting a final decision.
“I have always been a good soldier and have always done what they ask me to do,” she said. “I got into debt when I joined the Army because I can’t work legally but, financially, I can’t survive anymore. I don’t want to give up because I genuinely like being in the Army. But I don’t know who to turn to.”
In recent years, a group of attorneys have been fighting to keep their recruited immigrant clients eligible for naturalization as delays have mounted. Some have been successful, including nearly 50 recruits who were granted a type of temporary status while their background investigations are being completed.
“Some of our clients have finally emerged through the system and at least are doing basic training,” said Donald Friedman, a Washington attorney with Perkins Coie.


Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Updated 22 June 2021

Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
  • Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month
  • The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use

LONDON: Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Monday after forcing their way into a factory they claim makes components for the Israeli military.
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement that officers were called to Greenacres Road, Oldham, at about 6:40 a.m. following reports of a protest.

Three men were arrested and remain in custody, police said.
Huda Ammori, co-founder of Palestine Action, told Arab News that it was hoped the men would be released within 24 hours.
She said that the activists wanted to cause further disruption to Elbit Systems.
“Activists have gone inside before, but not caused significant damage to the machinery. This is the first time it has been done on this scale, so it is definitely an escalation in terms of our activism and our campaign against Elbit Systems’ operations here in the UK,” she said.
Ammori claimed that people were growing frustrated with the UK government’s response to Israel’s actions, especially following the 11-day conflict that rocked Gaza in May.
The UK Parliament held a debate to discuss a petition signed by over 385,000 people calling for sanctions on Israel. Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but most MPs who took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month.
“The government has failed to take action, our parliamentarians have failed and protests have been ignored, and when everything else fails, the only tool we have left is to take the power back into our own hands, and expose exactly what Israel’s arms companies are doing and building in UK towns and cities,” Ammori said.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said that four people were treated for minor injuries.


Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
Updated 21 June 2021

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
  • Ghani, Abdullah expected to discuss stalled peace process, bilateral ties with US

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to the US later this week for their first meeting with President Joe Biden since he assumed office, officials said.

“The issues that will be discussed at the meeting will be bilateral ties and the peace process,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News.

The meeting on Friday comes amid a phased withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is scheduled to finish by September 11 in line with Biden’s order to end the “forever war.”

It follows a deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban’s steady victories on the battlefield in various parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Abdullah said that he was “looking for constructive meetings and discussions on US-Afghan relations, and establishing a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Ghani’s office could not confirm what the president expected to achieve from the talks.

However, Fatima Morchal, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Arab News that he “would exchange views on the continuation of bilateral cooperation.”

The visit follows a March proposal by Washington for Ghani and Abdullah to form a new administration that would include the Taliban, amid a warning that the insurgent group would make rapid territorial gains once all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ghani has long expressed his hope that Biden would review the troop withdrawal process, which is based on a controversial deal signed between the former US administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

He also freed thousands of Taliban inmates — under pressure from former president Donald Trump — but vehemently rejected the idea of a new coalition government, vowing to pass the baton to the next administration following elections.

“In recent months, Ghani has pushed for a one-on-one audience with Biden to persuade him to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” an anonymous official told Arab News.

However, the Afghan president’s hopes were dashed on Sunday when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “looks forward to welcoming” the Afghan leaders and reassuring them of US diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support for the turmoil-hit country as the drawdown continues.

“The visit by President Ghani and Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the US and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” she added.

Psaki further emphasized that Washington “continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”

However, analysts have downplayed the importance of the upcoming meeting, warning that Washington is in favor of all-inclusive peace talks and will avoid solely backing Ghani’s government.

“This time, the Americans will make it clear to Ghani that he would lose US support if he pursues anti-peace agendas (failure to hand over power to an interim government based on intra-Afghan talks),” Abdul Satar Saadat, Ghani’s former legal adviser, told Arab News.

“The government is making propaganda about the visit, calling it as the start of a new chapter, but this meeting will be Ghani’s last meeting with Biden,” he added.

Ahmad Samin, a former World Bank adviser, agreed, adding that the president’s meeting with Biden will not “strengthen Ghani’s political image.”

“It is crystal clear that Ghani is not considered an ally of the US,” he told Arab News.

Samin further cited an example of a speech where Biden misspelled Ghani’s name as “Kayani,” a former army chief of Pakistan, to explain how “important” the Afghan president was to his US counterpart.

The Afghan visit comes amid a series of territorial gains by the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan, including in the northern and northeastern areas, where they previously failed to establish a stronghold during their five-year rule, which ended with the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The insurgents have captured dozens of districts in recent weeks, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, even as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s protracted conflict.

The battlefield setbacks prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, including the head of the army, amid criticism that a lack of coordination was the reason for Taliban advances and a spike in casualties among government forces.

Following his appointment on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi called on Afghans to “cooperate with the troops in the war against advancing Taliban forces.”

Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during the civil wars in the 1990s, replaced Asadullah Khalid, who held the position since 2018.


Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
Updated 21 June 2021

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
  • Duterte pushes for Filipino workers to be part of Kingdom’s ‘visionary’ reform program

MANILA: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.

The subject was discussed during a meeting on Sunday between President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Robert Borje, and Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi.

Philippines Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos were also part of the discussions.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary for Global Media Affairs J.V. Arcena told Arab News on Monday that Borje and Al-Rajhi highlighted the two nations’ commitment to “significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

Borje told Al-Rajhi that Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), introduced in March, “as a significant step toward addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the Kingdom.  

He also expressed confidence that the initiative will raise productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes Filipino household workers will be included in the reform initiative,” Borje said.

He emphasized Manila’s commitment to work with the Saudi government in implementing the labor reforms, especially to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers. At the same time, Borje sought the Saudi official’s support for other initiatives to support Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom.

These include a repatriation program for distressed OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah, and to make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

Borje underscored the need to address fundamental issues of all migrant workers in the Kingdom, such as harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

“Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done,” the statement said.

It added that Riyadh and Manila “hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.”

Describing the Saudi government’s reforms on migrants’ rights as “bold and visionary,” Borje aired his optimism that the Philippine-Saudi relations would “continue to grow beyond labor cooperation,” such as in the trade and investment sectors.

The Philippines is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, in line with Duterte’s vision, he said.

Borje’s meeting with Al-Rajhi was part of the Philippine delegation’s five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on the president’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two officials also discussed “issues of common interest,” following which Saudi King Salman received a written letter from Duterte which dealt with relations between Riyadh and Manila, and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2019, with Duterte congratulating King Salman for the Kingdom’s “landmark” LRO, which, among other benefits, abolished the kafala system for migrant workers last year.

In a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May, Duterte renewed the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral and trade ties and intensify efforts to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

He also conveyed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s free COVID-19 vaccinations for Filipinos and the financial assistance extended to the Philippine health sector during outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy’s farewell event in the Malacanang last week.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the largest number of any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate. About half work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing and healthcare sectors.


6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
Updated 21 June 2021

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
  • French military said it sent ‘alert units’ including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops
  • Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to combat extremism, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region

BAMAKO: A suicide car bomber attacked French troops patrolling in central Mali on Monday, according to France’s military, wounding six soldiers and four civilians including a child in the war-torn West African country.

The French soldiers, who were traveling in a vehicle, were on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Gossi to secure the area around a nearby forward operating base.

“Six French soldiers and four Malian civilians were injured by the explosion of the suicide vehicle,” the French military said in a statement.

The army added that none of their lives were in danger.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Malian military officer and a local elected official had earlier said that some soldiers were evacuated to the French army base in northern city Gao by helicopter.

The French military also said that it sent “alert units” including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops.

Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal militant insurgency, which first emerged in the north in 2012 before spreading to the center of the country and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the extremists, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month that he would wind down the Barkhane force.

France plans to refocus its energies on strengthening an international task force of special forces in Mali, known as Takuba.


Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis
Updated 21 June 2021

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis
  • Sarah O. sentenced to 6.5 years behind bars in Germany
  • Victim: ‘No conviction can make up for our suffering’

LONDON: Renowned human rights defender Amal Clooney has secured the prosecution of a Daesh member who abused, enslaved and assisted in the rape of captured Yazidi women.

Clooney’s client was a Yazidi woman who was taken and enslaved at the age of 14 by the notorious terrorist group.

Her captors were an Algerian woman known as Sarah O. and her husband, a German-Turkish national known as Ismail S. According to the Daily Mail, he remains at large.

Sarah O. was arrested in Turkey in February 2018. After seven months in custody, she was deported to Germany and put on trial. 

The verdict was heard last Wednesday, and saw Sarah O. sentenced to six and a half years behind bars in Germany.

She was convicted of membership in a foreign terrorist organization, assault, deprivation of liberty, aiding and abetting rape, enslavement, and religious and gender-based persecution as crimes against humanity. 

From 2015 onward, the couple enslaved Yazidi women and girls who were captured by Daesh as it expanded its so-called caliphate throughout Iraq and Syria.

Yazidis, considered heretics by Daesh, were subjected to a catalogue of brutal abuse. Men were often instantly killed and women killed or enslaved.

The survivors were often subjected to acts of extreme cruelty, including sexual enslavement, torture and summary execution.

Over two years, Sarah O. and Ismail S. enslaved seven Yazidi women, some of whom were sold on to others and one of whom — a 14-year-old girl — died while in their captivity.

Sarah O. beat the prisoners and assisted in her husband’s sexual abuse of them, helping to “prepare them” for rape. She also forced them into slave labor in her house.

The victim, whose identity remains hidden under German law, said: “No conviction can make up for our suffering, but I am immensely grateful to the German Federal Prosecutors and the German court for investigating and shedding light on the crimes committed against the Yazidis, and I hope that many more countries will follow this good example.”

Clooney, 43, has been active for years in pushing for justice for the countless Yazidi women subjected to horrors at the hands of Daesh.

One of Clooney’s colleagues representing the Yazidi women in the Dusseldorf court, Natalie von Wistinghausen, said: “For the first time ever, a court handed down a conviction for religious and gender-based persecution, and this recognition is of utmost importance for our client and for all Yazidi women, for their religious community as a whole, as well as for other victims of gender-based violence.”