Coast Guard Cutter Resolute crew member Seaman Samuel Gonzalez waves a U.S. flag aboard the cutter in St. Petersburg, Florida, after taking the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. Gonzalez was required to take part in a series of tests and interviews administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a part of the naturalization process. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)
By Tracy Fuga
President Donald Trump may be planning a wall to keep immigrants out of our country, but he isn’t stopping them from serving it. For now, the president has no plans to overturn a long-standing policy that permits noncitizen military recruits and provides service members a faster path to citizenship, according to a Department of Defense official.
“Today’s service members are eligible for expedited citizenship under a July 2002 executive order and the military services have worked closely with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to streamline citizenship processing for service members,” Lt. Col. Myles Caggins said last week in an email to Fox News. “Law ensures that the sacrifice of noncitizens during a time of national need is met with an opportunity for early citizenship, to recognize their contribution and sacrifice.”
Data from the DOD show that as many as 18,700 noncitizens were active duty from 2010 to 2016 and about 8,000 enlist each year.
President Trump has been a steadfast proponent for increasing military personnel while also repeatedly mentioning his plans to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. He has not publicly offered an opinion on the immigration policy concerning noncitizens in the military but addressed the matter while at a presidential candidates’ forum in September 2016.
“I think when you serve in the armed forces, that’s a very special situation, and I could see myself working that out, absolutely,” Trump said.
The USCIS established the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative in August 2009 with the Army to give noncitizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize when they graduate from basic training. Since 2009, the USCIS has expanded the initiative to the Navy, Air Force and finally to the Marine Corps in 2013, giving enlistees of these branches equal opportunity to leave basic training as U.S. citizens.
“Concerning naturalization, the decision to become a U.S. citizen is a voluntary individual decision and each service provides assistance to service members seeking citizenship,” Caggins said in the email. “Per U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, more than 109,000 servicemen and women have naturalized through 2015.”
Although it is an expedited process, it is not an easy one, and there are specific requirements that must be in place for noncitizens to join the armed forces. The noncitizen must have an Alien Registration Receipt Card as well as an established U.S. residence. If the noncitizen comes from a country with a reputation of hostility toward the U.S., a waiver may be required.
For an immigrant to join the U.S. military, they must first go through the immigration process of the USCIS before beginning the enlistment process. In addition, the noncitizen’s green card and/or visa must be valid for the entire period of their enlistment.