The US Military has, since 2009, utilized a program called the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (or MAVNI) to fill gaps in its skilled-worker regiments. For its many military and “diplomatic” conquests, the Army, which is the main beneficiary of MAVNI, often requires a large quantity of polylingual personnel in addition to a number of other skillsets. The trade-off? In exchange for providing much needed services to the US Military, non-national soldiers who apply through this program are expedited through the naturalization process. To date, more than 10,000 soldiers have joined the armed services via MAVNI.
Late last month, the Washington Post gained access to a Defense Department memo suggesting that Secretary of Defense James Mattis nix the program entirely. This would be bad news for a large number of soldiers on standby waiting for deployment. If Secretary Mattis avails himself of this counsel, nearly 1,000 people counting on MAVNI to remain in the US could be forced out of the country.
In the weeks that followed the Post’s article, many have railed against the memo, namely three outspoken members of Congress. Representatives Betty McCollum, Grace Meng and Tammy Duckworth have all expressed their unwavering support for MAVNI. McCollum even introduced an amendment to the House just a couple days following the release of the memo. HR 3102 would identify foreign-born recruits eligible for naturalization and “facilitate such members in becoming citizens.”
The Army’s Own
There are even members of the armed service who can’t fathom such a recommendation. Margaret Stock, who was integral in developing the program, told the Washington Post, “It’s terrible. You trusted the Army, who delayed the process, and now they’re going to cancel your contract and have you deported.”
Why shut down the program? According to the memo, security risks were a major factor in writing up the recommendation. And the defense department intensified its vetting process last year, effectively overstretching an “already constrained Army fiscal and manpower resources.”
The screening process is arduous to say the least. According to KTUU Channel 2 News, ten years of the applicant’s financial history are searched for anomalies. Similarly, the case handler reviews all educational history as well as personal and professional relationships.
Now that MAVNI could shut down, some soldiers banking on the program for citizenship have decided to depart of their own accord as opposed to wait for forced deportation.
If the Military ends up abandoning the program, there could be a financial and organizational blowback since MAVNI provides a number of benefits to the military, according to internal reports. For one, when operating at optimal efficiency, the program reduces costs associated with the recruiting process. Additionally, with MAVNI, the armed services have a reliable well of recruits to draw from. And finally, MAVNI serves the interests of National Security.
Gaps in Personnel
Specifically, having a soldier with specific language skills is of utmost importance to operations abroad. Paul Scharre, who works with the Center for a New American Security, had this to say with regard to translators supplied by MAVNI: “They can bridge cultural divides and explain why locals are behaving in a certain way that U.S. troops can understand.” In this regard, he said, they are essential in the field.
And as it turns out, according to a report by NPR, MAVNI is responsible for filling the ranks of the Army Reserve Dental Corps. Two-thirds of the soldiers working as dentists in the Army were recruited via the program that may be cut.
In a phone interview with ThinkProgress, Stock made the stakes abundantly clear: “The army’s already experiencing a huge shortage of medical professionals because they can’t find enough native-born Americans willing to serve in the military who are U.S. licensed health care professionals.” She continued, “That’s just the reality.”
The Pentagon has refused to comment due to legal proceedings currently underway, so it’s difficult to say with any certainty whether the program will be shut down. If MAVNI is dismantled, the military will most likely have to make up for the associated losses.
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