Defense Department Halts Immigrant Soldiers’ Progress Toward Citizenship

Immigrants who join the United States military have always been given the opportunity to become citizens. New DoD policy is challenging this practice, and the law behind it.

By Molly Smith & Laura RiceMay 2, 2017 8:34 am| ,

Serving in the armed forces may be the ultimate display of citizen loyalty. In fact, you don’t have to be a citizen to enlist in the U.S. military. And serving, even in a combat zone, doesn’t guarantee a military member will be granted citizenship. Last year, the Standard profiled an Army vet who was deported for committing a crime, even after serving six years in the military. Like Humberto Barajas, many joined in part because serving “can be a faster path to citizenship.” But, now, the New York Times is reporting the process of granting citizenship to immigrant soldiers is suffering serious delays.

Margaret Stock, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, and a lawyer representing some people suing the government for not fulfilling path-to-citizenship promises, says immigrants have been earning citizenship through military service since 1775.

“People are told when they enlist that they can apply immediately for naturalization,” Stock says. “In fact there’s a law that allows people serving during wartime to apply for naturalization after one day of  honorable service in the reserve, or on active duty.”

Stock says military service doesn’t guarantee that citizenship will be granted. A soldier must qualify for citizenship. But she says the government’s current stance is unprecedented.

“This is the first time in history that the Department of Defense has ordered a complete halt to the naturalization of military service members,” Stock says.

Citizenship is not only a benefit for immigrant military members. Stock says they must take steps to achieve it.

“In their contracts, it says they are required to apply for citizenship as soon as they are able to do that,” Stock says. “And they believed in good faith that the government would process their applications, but the government is no longer processing their applications in good faith.”

Stock says she believes the change in Department of Defense policy has to do with the fact that soldiers can begin the application process after one day of honorable service.

“I’m told the Department of Defense doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and they’ve called a halt to applications because they want to change the law.” she says.

Stock says immigrant soldiers have been essential to U.S. military success.

“The United States military has won every war because of immigrants,” she says. “If you know military history, you know 20 percent of the Army in World War I was made up of immigrants. It’s shameful, and it’s a rejection of our history to treat immigrants who are serving in the manner that we’re treating them right now.”

 

Written by Shelly Brisbin.