Mattis Wants to Change the Program That Lets Legal Immigrants Join the Military

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On Friday, Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, is making key changes to the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, also known as MAVNI, that allowed foreign-born individuals to obtain citizenship more quickly in exchange for military service in specific fields. The program was halted last year after the Pentagon determined it didn’t properly safeguard against insider threats.

As reported by Fox News, MAVNI originally provided a fast-track path to US citizenship to those who joined the US military and provided services in critical segments, such as doctors and language experts. The program was stopped after it was deemed to insufficiently protect the country against insider threats. It is now being reassessed by Mattis who will see if the program can be revived.

“We are taking the steps obviously to save the program, if it can be saved,” said Mattis. “If it can, you do due diligence for it to make sure what you are bringing in is what you think you are bringing in.”

According to reports, since 2009, the MAVNI program attracted more than 10,000 recruits who were interested in exchanging military service for the ability to potentially become a citizen of the US more quickly. Critics of MAVNI said the program didn’t have an adequate screening process and could have left the military vulnerable to insider threats.

Speaking on the issue, Mattis stated, “We could not continue what we’d been doing without an espionage potential.”

Investigators with the Defense Department, after a year-long investigation, had identified “potential security risks” specifically related to the program. This included a vetting backlog where individuals were able to join the US military prior to their background checks being completed and incidents where MAVNI was used to bring in workers who did not possess the targeted specialized skills, like mechanics and cooks.

Mattis’ statements show a departure from Pentagon recommendations that the program should be ended and those waiting to serve to be prevented from doing so.

Currently, approximately 1,000 foreign-born recruits who were involved with the program before it was halted are awaiting orders. Without acceptance into the military, as would occur if the program was canceled, they are at risk of being deported.

Effective immediately, all recruits are required to pass a background check prior to being sent to basic training.