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    For now, Army suspends discharges of immigrant recruits

    NEW YORK — The Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship — at least temporarily.

    A memo spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program.

    The disclosure comes one month after the Associated Press reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts canceled.


    Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

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    In a statement Thursday, Army Lieutenant Colonel Nina L. Hill said they were stopping the discharges in order to review the administrative separation process. The decision could affect hundreds.

    The Army has reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued.

    Attorneys sought to bring a class-action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

    Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said Wednesday the memo proves there was a policy.


    ‘‘It’s an admission by the Army that they’ve improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers,’’ she said. ‘‘The next step should be to go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged.’’

    Discharged recruits and reservists reached Thursday said their discharges were still in place as far as they knew.

    The reversal comes as the Defense Department has attempted to strengthen security requirements for the program, through which immigrants vowed to risk their lives for the promise of US citizenship.

    President George W. Bush ordered ‘‘expedited naturalization’’ for immigrant soldiers after 9/11 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

    It came under fire from conservatives when President Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.