The ‘immigrant purge’ that wasn’t

Social media erupted in outrage Friday after an Associated Press report suggested the Trump administration is purging immigrants who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship. That’s not the case — though a real problem remains.

This much is true: Immigrant advocates told the AP they’ve seen a surge of Army reservists who’ve been abruptly discharged from the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program.

But the lawyers who brought the story to the AP can only point to about 40 — out of around 10,000 now in the program.

Building on an effort that began under President George W. Bush, MAVNI since 2009 has recruited immigrant soldiers — noncitizens who are here legally — with special background and language skills.

But because these are immigrants, many from Middle Eastern countries, extensive background vetting is necessary before they’re allowed to serve.

As veteran military commentator John Noonan notes, it’s elementary: “If you’re not a citizen and you want to serve, we have to check your background. Aggressively.”

But when the Obama administration opened MAVNI up to DACA “dreamers,” growing national-security concerns led the Pentagon to ratchet up that screening — creating a huge backlog.

All this began in the fall of 2016 — before President Trump had even been elected, although new Defense Secretary Jim Mattis added even more layers of vetting in 2017.

As Stars & Stripes has reported, soldiers recruited before then found themselves stuck while waiting for their clearances. And if the vetting isn’t finished within 180 days, they must be given an entry-level separation from service that’s not considered an honorable discharge.

Problem is, that’s precisely what they need in order to become citizens.

It’s a shame that some of these volunteers are caught in a bind that they can’t control. But it’s up to the Pentagon (as well as the FBI and other agencies that do some of this background-check work) to ensure that the vetting be expedited without compromising on thoroughness.

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