© 2021 KALW
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Army Discharges Immigrants Promised A Path To Citizenship, AP Reports

NOEL KING, HOST:

A few days ago, we reported that the U.S. tried to deport a Chinese immigrant who had joined the U.S. military. The government then called it a mistake and reversed it.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now the Associated Press reports many immigrants have trouble with the military. Many enlisted in exchange for a path to citizenship, and many have served honorably. But some recruits are now being discharged, including a Chinese man - Panshu Zhao.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PANSHU ZHAO: This is a whole disaster. This is a total mess - a big mess.

INSKEEP: He's on a student visa and is at Texas A and M. He enlisted two years ago and served in the Army Reserve while awaiting orders for full-time training. Instead, his recruiter told him that, for unspecified reasons, he failed a background check.

What made you want to join the United States Army?

ZHAO: There are many reasons. I mean, first, I come from China, but I was raised in a family where my parents gave me a lot of American literatures and also the Bible to read when I was a child. And then I moved to USA. I joined a church - Christian church - and also, I was in - because all my American life, I spent in the time eight years in Texas A and M. You know, it's a military school, basically. We have ROTC program. I have a lot of friends.

INSKEEP: Yeah. This is a university that embraces the United States military - that you walk through the student center and see photos...

ZHAO: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...Of fallen heroes.

ZHAO: Exactly. So I feel join the army is something I can do. I mean, I have my degree, I have a good degree, but I want to do something more than that. I mean, I want to contribute my energy, my time and my effort into the military to pay back to the community.

INSKEEP: So you have served the last couple of years in the Army Reserves.

ZHAO: Already, yes - already.

INSKEEP: And...

ZHAO: And, suddenly, they told me I can't be a soldier anymore without telling me specifically why and even not giving me any chance to appeal for that. That's not really fair, to be honest with you.

INSKEEP: And we should mention the Pentagon has yet to acknowledge a large change in policy, but the Associated Press did find something - around 40 people who were in your situation of having been abruptly let go.

ZHAO: I would say more than that. I mean (laughter), 40's a very conservative estimate - but for sure more than 40.

INSKEEP: What does that mean for your future?

ZHAO: Well, first, I have to give up my military dream. I mean, that's a good dream, that's a great dream - to serving the people, the great people of the United States. I have to abandon my military career because I really want to join the ROTC and become officer later.

And also, this kind of changes in my immigration status because I served in the army, I post from my school and I have due with my immigration status right now.

The third thing - that I'm kind of barred about going back to China because I organize - well, I mean, while I was waiting, I also organized with my good friend Deb Tien Wong (ph) - we organized a small group of organization to helping Asian soldiers like me. About 300 people joined in this group. So this group is called Asian-American soldiers for America. So basically, this is a group - this small organization is trying to help Asian soldiers to better serve United States. And we did a lot of things. Like, we delivered letters to President Trump last year. We talked to different senators and congressmen in person. And I'm pretty sure the Chinese government knows what I did, and that they know my name. So (laughter) you know, I don't know what will happen if I go back.

INSKEEP: You're saying that it may not be safe for you to go back?

ZHAO: Yes, exactly.

INSKEEP: Has this experience changed your view of America in any way?

ZHAO: No, not really. I mean, it's not the people's fault. It's not the country's fault. It's not the army's fault. It's just some silly procedure - or I would say stereotypes or a certain group of people. That's how I feel.

INSKEEP: Panshu Zhao, thank you very much.

ZHAO: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.