Trump stopped fast track citizenship for foreign-born soldiers. Now a judge has overruled him

US Court Clears Path for Fast-Track Citizenship for Foreign-Born Military Service Members

By Aline Barros for Voice of America, September 03, 2020

For nearly the past 80 years, the United States has offered a path to citizenship for foreigners who volunteer to serve in the American military. Under the Nationality Act of 1940, foreign-born military service members whose superior officers certify that they are serving with honor can use an expedited process to seek U.S. citizenship.

That process changed in October 2017, when the Trump administration added new requirements for applicants. Instead of being able to start the application process soon after reporting to basic training with at least one day of service, green card holders first had to complete their military training requirements, have at minimum 180 consecutive days of active-duty service or at least one year of satisfactory service in the selected reserve, and pass an extensive background check.

According to court documents, from October 1, 2001, through fiscal year 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized 129,587 members of the military.

Since the Trump administration announced the new requirements in 2017, the government reported a 72 percent drop in military service members' naturalization applications from pre-policy levels.

At the time, Stephanie Miller, director of military accession policy at the Department of Defense, explained that "while the department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization."

Last month, a federal judge ruled that policy was unlawful, clearing the way for the fast-track citizenship process to resume.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled August 26 that according to immigration law, the Defense Department must provide the paperwork to service members who requested the needed citizenship certification so they can satisfy "one day of qualifying service."

VOA asked the Department of Defense for a comment on the ruling, but the department referred queries to the U.S. Department of Justice. DOJ officials did not disclose whether they might appeal the decision and said they had no comments about the judge's recent ruling.

Scarlet Kim, staff attorney with the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said she celebrated the decision.

"We're pleased that our clients and thousands of others like them can finally benefit from the expedited path to citizenship they have rightfully earned through their honorable military service," she said.

One-day policy

Experts said expediting the citizenship process can help ensure foreign-born soldiers have the legal protections necessary to perform their military jobs. Because service members deploy overseas often and can be sent to their original country, they would be subjected to that country's laws if they were not American citizens.

But U.S. naturalization through military service can always be taken away. If a member of the armed services does not serve honorably for five years, he or she can lose citizenship.

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