Today: 16.08.2018
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Immigrant recruits booted by the Army left facing deportation, death.

Xiongzhou Zhang’s dream of becoming an American by joining the Army started to fade away with a pounding at the door of his upstate home last month. A Chinese immigrant and master’s student, Zhang had signed up to join the Army in 2016 with the promise of expedited citizenship for his service, which included Mandarin...
Time: 22:10     Date: 09.08.2018
Last US News: Immigrant recruits booted by the Army left facing deportation, death. NY Post 24 - US News

A Chinese immigrant and master’s student, Zhang had signed up to join the Army in 2016 with the promise of expedited citizenship for his service, which included Mandarin language skills the Pentagon needed.

But instead of a uniform, Zhang found himself wearing an ankle bracelet after about 10 immigration agents raided the Rochester home he shares with his wife and 20-month-old son on the morning of July 16, threatening the couple with deportation because his legal status had expired.

“We relied on my contract to pursue our dreams,” said Zhang, 29.

“The contract didn’t bring us the citizenship, the job, the salaries and the respect. It just put us under arrest.”

Stringent new background checks meant many of the recruits couldn’t get cleared for basic training — for reasons many still don’t know.

A July 20 Army memo made public Thursday by The Associated Press revealed officials have been ordered to stop processing such discharges.

But it’s unclear what that means for those who haven’t been cleared or would-be soldiers like Zhang who have already been given their marching orders.

For now, they’re stuck in a dangerous limbo — because returning to their native countries after joining the US military could be a death sentence.

That was the dilemma facing Brooklynite Yousuf Istajab: risk his student-visa status expiring while he was awaiting clearance for basic training, or return to his native Pakistan and face persecution for joining the US Army Reserves.

“I can’t take the risk of my life and go back while serving in the Army,” said Istajab, 33.

He chose to file for asylum in the US as a last resort, marking a growing trend of US military members fearing deportation to countries where they could be treated as traitors.

Immigration lawyers say they are being swamped by immigrants in the armed services desperate for help to stay in their adopted country.

“It’s crazy,” said Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the MAVNI program and has filed a dozen asylum cases so far.

“They are in the US military, and now they have to claim asylum in America. They should have legal status, and they should have citizenship.”

Maurice Goldman, an immigration attorney in Tucson, Ariz., filed two asylum cases recently for immigrants who signed contracts with the military but now are at risk for deportation to countries where they will be persecuted.

“These are people who were given a raw deal,” Goldman said.

“They agreed to assist the US military and put their own life at potential risk and defend our freedoms in return for the possibility of US citizenship . . . I believe that the US government breached their contract by not standing up to its end of the bargain.”

Neither the Pentagon nor the US Citizenship and Immigration Services could provide information on how many military members have resorted to seeking asylum.

After pledging an oath to the United States, Zhang, too, fears going back to his native country mean persecution for his family.

He initially came to America legally to pursue a higher education and better opportunities. His girlfriend later followed, and they were married in New York, where their son was born.

For more than two years, he attended weekly meetings for future Army soldiers to meet with his recruiter and to train, while his ship date to basic training got delayed due to the new background check process.

But with the US suddenly canceling his Army contract and his deferred-action status expiring, Zhang and his wife face deportation.

“We chose the MAVNI program because it can guarantee us citizenship within six months after I sign a contract,” Zhang said.

“Two years later, they just threw me away and put me through a deportation process.”

The MAVNI program was developed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to diversify the armed forces and bring in much-needed language skills.

About 10,000 immigrants joined as a shortcut to US citizenship, but over the years, the program fell under increased scrutiny and oversight, and finally last year, the Pentagon suspended the program entirely.

The Department of Defense also changed the rules to require recruits who were still in the pipeline to undergo special new background checks before shipping out and warned that these checks could take more than a year to complete.

Recruits must sit without access to a phone or computer for a daylong interview during which investigators grill them about every aspect of their life.

They must document their foreign travel since birth, their financial information and spending habits, a list of all associates “living or dead” who have been connected with any government and detailed information on “all foreign-born associates and relatives” they have ever had contact with, according to the manual for the counterintelligence screenings reviewed by The Post.

“The type of background check they are trying to get the noncitizen soldier to pass is as if he was going to be Jared Kushner working in the White House,” said Zhang’s attorney, Beverly Cutler.

“They are giving them our nation’s highest level of national security testing and to not pass that has nothing to do with whether you are qualified to be a citizen.”

The Pentagon didn’t have information on how many recruits passed the new standards, but it contends that the average ratio of passage is two out of three and that the tougher standards were needed for national security.

“The problem with the MAVNI program [is] we found that it was really vulnerable to insider threats and espionage and terrorism and other criminal activity. When that became apparent, we had to do something,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason.

She said the Pentagon doesn’t tip off immigration officials to newly discharged immigrant recruits to start deportation proceedings.

“No one is being discharged from the military due to their immigration status. They are being discharged due to security suitability,” she said.

Previously, one day of military service was sufficient to apply for citizenship. But under the new rules, 180 days of consecutive active duty service or one year in the reserves is required.

The changes shocked Istajab.

“They welcome you. They say you are in our department and you are a US solider. We took an oath of office,” said Istajab, who is working as a dental assistant.

“We were about to ship [to basic training]. And then all of a sudden, the new government came and said, ‘Hey, we don’t know who you guys are . . . You are strangers in our department.’ It’s kind of rough.”

One Chinese MAVNI recruit from New York learned that he didn’t pass an expanded background check — although not why — but hasn’t been officially discharged and is continuing to drill on weekends in his uniform in the hope the Army realizes he poses no threat.

“I don’t have a ship date. I’m just waiting. I’m hoping they change their mind or they made a mistake,” said the recruit, who has been drilling for more than two years.

In China, his decision to serve in the US Army would be viewed as “treason.”

Evidence compiled by Stock in a separate military asylum case shows a string of threats posted on the Chinese social-media platform Sina Weibo against Chinese MAVNI soldiers.

“They betrayed their own country,” one threat said. “Kill them!”

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