The American Legion has advocated for those who seek a legal path toward naturalization for more than 100 years. Non-citizen immigrants have served in the U.S. military in every conflict since the nation’s inception. Approximately 760,000 have gained American citizenship through military service over the last 100 years. Nearly 24,000 non-citizen immigrants are currently serving in the U.S. military and 5,000 join every year.
The American Legion again advocated for these veterans and servicemembers in a statement for the record submitted to the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for a hearing on the oversight of immigrant military members and veterans.
"Every day, brave immigrant service members risk their lives in support of our country,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in his opening remarks. “We rely on them to keep our nation safe and to protect U.S. global interests. In return, we must honor their sacrifices by supporting them and their families, and by giving them every opportunity to become U.S. citizens if they so desire.”
The process of gaining citizenship through military service is convoluted, leaving many servicemembers assuming they had earned their citizenship automatically through their service. The branches of the Armed Services needed to work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to begin the process of establishing citizenship for the servicemember. Oftentimes, the servicemember was unaware of the need to begin the process through USCIS, and the individual service branches failed to inform the servicemember while on active duty. Servicemembers were often left to pursue citizenship on their own with little assistance or guidance.
This resulted in many veterans being deported as a result of minor, non-violent or substance-related crimes, which could result in being barred from naturalization for life, despite meeting all other criteria for citizenship.
“The American Legion believes all non-citizen immigrant veterans should be afforded every opportunity to complete the process toward citizenship before exiting the military,” The American Legion wrote in the statement for the record. “Post-service opportunities should also be bolstered for veterans and their family members.
“The American Legion believes in honoring the promise this nation makes to immigrants who seek naturalization through military service: if you enlist and serve honorably, this nation will make you a citizen.”
Based on resolutions No. 15: Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service; No. 10: Expedited Citizenship Applications For Deported Veterans; No. 19: Oppose Deportation of Non-Citizen Immigrant Veterans; and No. 20: Oppose Deportation Of Immediate Family Members Of Non-Citizen Immigrant Veterans, The American Legion recommended some changes to the subcommittee. These include implementing measures within the Department of Defense to ensure the process of naturalization through honorable military service is completed prior to discharge, reopening 19 field offices abroad to support the naturalization process for deployed servicemembers, providing expedited citizenship applications and the resources to complete the applications to deported veterans if their discharge is honorable and they do not have a felony conviction and establishing a pathway to lawful permanent residence for immediate family members of noncitizen servicemembers and veterans and strengthen the pathway to citizenship.
“Immigrants have served in the United States Military since the founding of our nation. In recognition of their honorable service, we have promised the opportunity to become American citizens. Although the pathway to citizenship has been accomplished for many non-citizen immigrant servicemembers and veterans, there are still many barriers. The American Legion’s position is clear. These brave men and women served our nation honorably. It is only right that we recognize their service with the pathways to citizenship they deserve,” The American Legion concluded.
Watch the full hearing here.