For 10 years, the U.S. military recruited immigrants with critical language skills to serve in exchange for a chance to become U.S. citizens. In 2016, however, the Trump administration put that program on hold, concerned about inadequate vetting and security threats. The Pentagon increased the level of vetting and had been planning on relaunching the program this fall. Unfortunately, barriers remain.

Over 10,000 immigrants have been recruited through the program, which is called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI. For 2019, Congress set a maximum of 1,000 annual recruits.

The MAVNI program is geared toward recruiting immigrants who speak certain languages the military needs, along with people able to perform medical translations or who have other crucial skills. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a combat veteran of multiple wars, backs the program because he believes immigrants can bring not only language skills but also important cultural knowledge to the military.

“We need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve,” Mattis said last month.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has thrown up a barrier to the program, according to officials who spoke to the Associated Press anonymously. The agency says it cannot prevent immigrant recruits from being deported as soon as their temporary visas expire, even after they’ve signed up with the military. According to the AP, the DHS has told the Pentagon that it won’t sign any agreement that would block the deportation of MAVNI recruits.

In the past, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the DHS, was able to protect the MAVNI recruits through an informal process. An anonymous official, however, told the AP that, while recruits without legal immigration status are subject to deportation, actual deportations are handled on a case-by-case basis.

The AP identified over 20 MAVNI recruits who, since 2013, have been subjected to FBI, Pentagon or criminal investigations. Dozens have been discharged or had their military contracts canceled due to the new, slower background checks. That led to lawsuits and some reinstatements. Since the program was halted in 2016, hundreds more have had their military careers stalled.

The Pentagon is reportedly exploring other ways to bring in immigrants with the needed skills, but a replacement program will likely take time.

The major languages sought by the MAVNI program include Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Nepalese, Tagalog, Yoruba, Hindi, Swahili, French, Russian and Brazilian Portuguese.

If you have been affected by a change in U.S. immigration policy, contact Yew Immigration Law Group to discuss your options. We have years of experience helping immigrants work their way through immigration law to get the results they need.