Imagine you are a Polish- or Punjabi-speaking graduate of a United States school and you volunteered to join the U.S. Armed Forces, ready to serve this country and America’s interests. Your recruiter told you about the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) Pilot Program which allows certain lawful non-immigrants possessing critical health care specialty credentials, or language and cultural skills, vital to the national interest to join the Armed Forces. You’re promised that once you begin serving on active duty, or drilling in a reserve unit, you will become eligible for expedited naturalization. You’re ready, and you’re joined by thousands of others who, since the program’s inception, have helped make the program a success.

But, last fall, the orderly progression of the entire MAVNI Pilot Program ran into serious problems, and now it has now been completely stalled. On September 30, 2016, the Department of Defense (DoD) implemented revised eligibility, background, screening, and continuous monitoring requirements for the entire MAVNI cohort, estimated to number over 10,600 persons in the various service branches including those in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) and/or the Delayed Training Program (DTP).

As a result of the DoD’s new requirements, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initially began to slow its naturalization processing. Later in 2016, USCIS began to administratively close receipted naturalization applications – even when the MAVNI applicant had met all the former DoD requirements and submitted to USCIS everything necessary for adjudication. At present, we are told, USCIS has suspended action on all MAVNI-related military naturalizations since the necessary background investigations are months or even years away from being completed, if at all.

One immediate result of the DoD’s new requirements and USCIS’s freeze , is that many MAVNIs, formerly safely insulated in the joint DoD and USCIS military naturalization protocol, began to seek assistance from immigration lawyers, and, to a large degree, from the AILA Military Assistance Program (MAP). These inquiries have accelerated rapidly since last fall.

MAP operates on a pro bono basis and matches potential military clients with volunteer attorneys. Because the MAVNI program applicants did not generally rely upon immigration attorneys, let alone MAP, many experienced MAP attorney volunteers – unless involved with MAVNI – had little information on what was required, necessary, or even extant, with regard to MAVNI-related naturalization and DoD and USCIS protocols. The resultant learning curve has taken some time, which in many cases understandably frustrates an ever-increasing number of MAVNI potential clients seeking help from lawyers and our MAP volunteer attorneys.

Collaterally, because an enlistee is required to actively work with his or her recruiter, and also with his or her chain-of-command, if on active duty or serving in a reserve unit, MAVNIs often receive and have updated information from their various service branches, which simply do not appear on the DoD or USCIS websites, and of which lawyers are sometimes unaware. This can lead to more frustration from MAVNI potential clients with their lawyers–who are expected to know these things.

Accordingly, understanding the MAVNI program, its background, its successes, its current status, the sources for potential misunderstandings, and all other necessary aspects is vitally necessary if we aim to competently serve MAVNI clients, each of whom has sworn to protect and defend us and our country. On behalf of AILA MAP, I am humbled and grateful to acknowledge every single MAVNI and also those lawyers who are willing to undertake assisting and representing MAVNIs.

To this end, I encourage AILA members to become attorney volunteers for MAP. You do not have to have special military immigration expertise or military experience to serve as a volunteer. Even in the case of a MAVNI who is seeking re-instatement of his extant or former non-immigrant status while his MAVNI case is being sorted, those lawyers who have represented immigration clients in general, in extending status, changing status, or re-instating status, or simply obtaining a stay of Deferred Action, can adequately and competently help. We need your help! Please complete the MAP volunteer application today.

For any MAVNI readers of this post, please continue to have the patience you have demonstrated throughout, while these new rules and requirements are implemented and impact your and your family’s lives. We sincerely honor your service and your commitment to serve. We ask that you please continue to closely work with your recruiter and/or chain-of-command, attend all meetings and classes you are assigned to or recommended to attend, and, if you can, and it does not violate military orders or operational security, please let us know how we can help.

AILA and the MAP Committee will post and publish updates and resources to help attorneys keep up with new developments with the MAVNI program and any DoD and/or USCIS guidance or protocols. Please keep an eye out for those resources which can lend some insight into this ever-changing landscape.

This sort of fluidity is alarming to those who serve and those of us who stand for them in immigration proceedings. Another way to help, for anyone to consider, is to call or email your congressional representative, let them know what is happening with MAVNI and that you think it is callous and unjust to treat service members this way. Your voices could make all the difference.

Written by Roland R. Lenard, Vice-Chair, AILA MAP Committee