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He Wants To Help The Army Fight Terrorism, But Was Discharged Before He Got A Chance

Aug 26, 2018
Originally published on August 25, 2018 12:59 pm

When the U.S. military had to fill a shortage of translators, combat medics, and nurses for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department of Defense began the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI, in 2009. It hired many immigrants for those positions and offered a fast track to U.S. citizenship.

The Pentagon suspended the program in 2016, because of security concerns. Hundreds of personnel hired under the MAVNI program faced an uncertain future.

This summer, the Pentagon forcibly discharged Army recruits and reservists living legally in the U.S., who have been waiting to be cleared for active duty. One of those reservists spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon about his experience. NPR is not using the man's name because his immigration status is still in question.

Simon: Why did you want to join the U.S. military?

Reservist: I'm not just another U.S. Army recruit. I was born and raised in a conservative city of Pakistan near Kashmir. My father owned a small local newspaper in which he recommended the diplomatic solution of Kashmir conflict due to which he had to face a lot of threats from state and not state actors. Because of these threats he had to close down his newspaper and I had to move to a boarding school outside my city. Then I got the opportunity to come to the United States and study in an American institution. At that time, I learned about military accessions vital to national interests. I did not have a second thought to join the U.S. Army because I get to be a part of something bigger than myself in the war against terrorism.

Simon: How long have you been waiting to be cleared for active duty?

Reservist: I joined in April 2016 and I did not get my security results until June of 2018. I spent more than two years in limbo and that period was mind-crushing.

Simon: Then what happened in July?

Reservist: I got a call from my recruiter and they said that I did not clear my background checks due to my foreign ties with my parents in Pakistan.

Simon: Your foreign ties were the fact that you were born in Pakistan to Pakistani parents?

Reservist: Yes. They said my family still stays in Pakistan and I will inherit a little amount of money when my parents pass away, and my fiance still lives in Pakistan. These were the reasons. Even my recruiters knew even before I joined the U.S. military. If they wanted to deny me, they could have denied me at the time of recruitment, but they made me wait two and a half years in limbo and that impacted my studies a lot.

Simon: I gather this week, the U.S. Army reinstated more than 30 recruits, but were you one of them?

Reservist: I was not. The memo from the Department of Defense said that all the recruits who got discharged after July 20, they will be reinstated — and I got discharged on July 1. So it does not make any sense why the people after July 20 can get reinstated and not me.

Simon: How do you feel?

Reservist: I feel like I am being discriminated [against.] I feel terrified because whenever something this happens, whenever, just like when I received the news of getting discharged, the only thing that surrounded my mind was the fear of getting persecuted in Pakistan. And every time I get discriminated, I feel terrified.

Simon: What do you see as any courses for action or appeal you have now?

Reservist: I can go ahead and file a lawsuit, but I am a college student and I cannot afford it.

Simon: How do you feel about the United States now?

Reservist: It was my home and it is my home. It will be my home because I have nowhere else to go. If I went somewhere else, I wouldn't be alive.

Simon: Is there something you'd like the Army and the Department of Defense and everyone to know about you?

Reservist: I am more patriotic than many Americans. I am ready to lay my life down for this country and for the safety of its people. I'm not a bad person and I have never committed a crime. My life is in danger if the institutions like United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Defense does not help me.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When the U.S. military had to fill a shortage of translators, combat medics and nurses for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department of Defense began the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program - or MAVNI - in 2009. It hired many immigrants for those positions and offered a fast track to U.S. citizenship. The Pentagon suspended the program in 2016 because of security concerns.

Hundreds of personnel that were hired under the MAVNI program faced an uncertain future. This summer, the Pentagon forcibly discharged Army recruits and reservists who had been living legally in the United States and waiting to be cleared for active duty. One such reservist is our next guest. We won't use his name. His immigration status is still in question. Sir, thank you very much for being with us.

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: You're welcome, Mr. Scott.

SIMON: And thanks for your service to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I appreciate it.

SIMON: Why did you want to join the U.S. military?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I'm not just another U.S. Army recruit. I was born and raised in a conservative city of Pakistan, near Kashmir. My father owned a small local newspaper in which he recommended the diplomatic solution of Kashmir conflict - due to which, he had to face a lot of threats from state and not-state actors. Because of these threats, he had to close down his newspapers, and I had to move to a boarding school outside my city.

Then I got the opportunity to come to the United States and study in an American institution. At that time, I learned about Military Accessions Vital to National Interest. And I did not have a second thought to join the U.S. Army because I get to be a part of something bigger than myself in the war against terrorism.

SIMON: And how long have you been waiting to be cleared for active duty?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I joined in April 2016. And I did not get my security results until June of 2018. I spent more than two years in limbo. And that period was mind-crushing.

SIMON: Yeah. And then what happened in July?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I got a call from my recruiter. And they said that I did not clear my background checks due to my foreign ties with my parents in Pakistan.

SIMON: Your foreign ties - your foreign ties were the fact that you were born in Pakistan to Pakistani parents.

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: Yes. The, quote, unquote - they said my family still stays in Pakistan, and I will inherit a little amount of money when my parents pass away and that my fiance still lives in Pakistan. And these are the reasons that they knew - even my recruiters knew even before I joined the U.S. military. If they wanted to deny me, they could have denied me at the time of recruitment. But they made me wait two and a half years in limbo. And that impacted my studies a lot.

SIMON: And I gather this week the U.S. Army reinstated more than 30 recruits. But were you one of them?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I was not. The memo from the Department of Defense said that all the recruits who got discharged after July 20, they will be reinstated. And I got discharged on July 1. So it does not make any sense why the people after July 20 can get reinstated and not me.

SIMON: How do you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I feel like I'm being discriminated. I feel terrified because whenever something like this happens - whenever I get - just like I'd received the news of getting discharged, the only thing that surrounded my mind was the fear of getting persecuted in Pakistan. And every time I get discriminated, I feel terrified.

SIMON: What do you see as any courses for action or appeal you have now?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I can go ahead and file a lawsuit. But I am a college student, and I cannot afford it.

SIMON: How do you feel about the United States now?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: It was my home, and it is my home. And it will be my home because I have nowhere else to go. If I went somewhere else, I wouldnt be alive.

SIMON: Is there something you'd like the Army and the Department of Defense and everyone to know about you?

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: I am more patriotic than many Americans. I am ready to lay my life down for this country and for the safety of its people. Im not a bad person, and I have never committed a crime. My life is in danger if the institutions like USCIS and DOD does not help me.

SIMON: Well, thank you very much for speaking with us. Good luck to you, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY RESERVIST: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: That was a reservist in the U.S. Army. We did not use his name because his immigration status is still unresolved. We asked U.S. Army Public Affairs for comment. We have not yet heard back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.