When the military issues rifles, it’s not so soldiers can shoot themselves in the feet.
Perhaps that’s why they don’t give rifles to bureaucrats. Some of those bureaucrats – most notably, undersecretary of Defense Peter Levine – are trying their best to wound our military.
How? By interfering in a program that has worked exactly as designed for eight years to get people with desperately needed skills into the military. That program is being threatened because bureaucrats like Levine apparently feel immigrants can’t be trusted.
The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest – MAVNI – was the brainchild of Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, a three-time graduate of Harvard (including law school), top-notch immigration lawyer and West Point instructor who once held a top-secret clearance. She got a MacArthur Genius grant after designing the MAVNI program, which was signed into law in 2008 and began delivering highest-quality recruits by 2009.
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MAVNI was conceived to give the very best – those morally and physically fit and who scored especially high on a battery of tests – an incentive to sign up. If they serve honorably for five years, they get a faster path to citizenship. Not every immigrant qualifies, not even close; MAVNI takes only the best of the best – doctors, nurses, engineers, microbiologists; people fluent in English but also Korean, Hindi, Pashto and other critical languages. Filling such roles is literally a matter of life and death.
Why would such talented people put themselves in harm’s way? Because citizenship is that important to them.
Some 10,000 people have served through MAVNI – often in combat zones and often with distinction. Many remain in the military. Another 4,200 have signed contracts to join and are awaiting the next steps – from induction to basic training to deployment. It could be a long wait.
In 2016, Levine – who was appointed by President Obama – inserted two extra layers of background checks for MAVNI recruits. Unfortunately, he didn’t first check to see if there were enough people in the Justice Department and intelligence community qualified to perform these checks. There aren’t, so many recruits are caught in limbo, having signed contracts committing them to serve but unable to take the next step.
One roadblock is the counterintelligence screen – a vetting so rigorous that few working in the White House today could pass it. For instance, if you’ve had contact with a “foreign national” in the past two years, you can be eliminated. Huh? Many people living here legally frequently talk to relatives in India, the Azores or Canada. They’re not “foreign nationals,” they’re mom and dad.
It gets worse. This impossible CI screening is being applied to MAVNI recruits who are already serving in places like Afghanistan, Korea and Germany.
Stars & Stripes, the superb military newspaper, wrote about an orthopedic surgeon who entered the Army as a captain in 2009. In 2014, after five years of stellar service (and promotion to lieutenant colonel), he was granted citizenship. Three tours of duty in war zones, and now he’s being questioned about his contacts with foreign nationals back in his native country. He might be forced to leave the Army.
“It’s totally insane,” said Stock. “He’s a highly successful physician, who’s had several deployments overseas; never any security problem, and he’s one of the guys who was ordered to get a CI screening retroactively.”
Whom does that hurt? This orthopedic surgeon will have no problem finding work. Only wounded American soldiers will lose out.
The military spends roughly $250,000 teaching English speakers basic levels of Korean, Pashto, Persian, etc., never reaching full fluency. But actual native speakers cost nothing to train.
Some 10,400 soldiers have entered the military through the MAVNI program since 2009. There have been no incidents of espionage, subterfuge or violence from MAVNI recruits. Instead, one MAVNI recruit was named Army Soldier of the Year in 2012. Four competed in the Rio Olympics for the United States, one winning a medal. Another won the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012.
More importantly, those with medical skills have saved the lives and limbs of many wounded soldiers.
Yet, a recent graduate of a top American medical school – his unit already deployed – sits cleaning scalpels instead of saving lives because no one can perform his CI screening.
Last week’s Pentagon memo suggested abandoning the program entirely, leaving 1,800 foreign-born recruits – men and women already contracted to join the military – in the lurch. Many are here on temporary work or students visas. Instead of serving our nation, they’ll forced to leave it. That is a travesty.
When Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., saw the memo divulged by NPR, he promised “strong, swift action” if our military fails to live up to MAVNI promises.
MAVNI was not broken until bureaucrats like Levine began meddling with it. Now some 4,200 people with skills crucial to our defense could be chased out of the country. They’re willing to take a bullet for America., but America isn’t willing to stand by its obligations to them. That’s why, perhaps, a few have sued. And such lawsuits are likely the reason the Pentagon is talking about abandoning a program that has worked so well.
Inviting immigrants into our military predates our Constitution. George Washington’s army was made up almost entirely of Irish, German and British immigrants. Tens of thousands more fought under Gen. U.S. Grant to preserve the union. An astounding 500,000 immigrants served during World War I and another 13,500 immigrants became citizens after fighting for us in WWII.
In times past, when America was a braver place, we welcomed those willing to risk everything to become an American. Unless Levine’s order suspending deployment is abandoned, our greatest risk is shooting ourselves in both feet.