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story.lead_photo.caption FILE- This undated file photo provided by the Calixto family shows Lucas Calixto. The U.S. Army has suspended discharging immigrant reservists and recruits promised a pathway to citizenship when they enlisted. A memo shared with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of enlistees in the special immigrant program, effective July 20. In mid-July the Army reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Calixto, who had sued. (Courtesy of the Calixto Family via AP, File)

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 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, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions," a memo signed July 20 by Marshall Williams, acting assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said.

The disclosure comes one month after The Associated Press reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts canceled. 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.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

In a statement Thursday, Army Lt. Col. Nina Hill said they were halting the discharges in order to review the administrative separation process. The decision could affect hundreds of enlistees.

"We continue to abide by all requirements to include completing a thorough background investigation" on all recruits, she said.

The Army has reversed one discharge, for reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, a Brazilian 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 enlistees in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

A judge's order refers to the July 20 memo and asks the Army to clarify how it affects 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 that 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 Thursday 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 soldier.

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 service members after 9/11 in an effort to expand military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program became an official recruiting program.

A Section on 08/10/2018

Print Headline: Army halts its purge of foreign enlistees

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