What’s the Story?
“The reason I joined the military is because I love the country — what it has done for me — and I want to participate. I want to vote but I can’t. It’s like I got out and I was forgotten,” explains Rene from Atlanta, a former U.S. marine who, after eight years of service, has struggled to obtain U.S. citizenship.
While legal, permanent, resident immigrants have long volunteered to serve in the U.S. armed forces, Rene’s story “represents the great struggle of so many immigrant servicemen and women who continue to experience difficulties with achieving citizenship within our broken immigration system,” says the Washington, DC-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Approximately 8,000 legal immigrants join the military every year and nearly 29,000 foreign-born people currently serve but are not U.S. citizens, the group notes. Watch this short video to hear more of Rene’s story, in his own words.
A U.S. Policy That’s Supposed to Be More Open
In July 2002, a Bush administration executive order dictated that non-citizen members of the armed forces were eligible for expedited U.S. citizenship, reports the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank that believes “international migration needs active and intelligent management.” The move gave foreign-born military personnel the option to apply for citizenship on their first day of active duty.
“Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet its recruiting goals and could not fill the need for foreign-language translators, interpreters, and cultural experts,” writes Wendy Sefsaf of the Immigration Policy Center, which researches the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy and society. “Since 2001, 47,500 service members have naturalized and become U.S. citizens in ceremonies around the world.” Despite these numbers, Sefsaf notes, the country is falling short of its goals.
And the bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining citizenship are preventing family members from accessing immigration benefits, keeping family members out of the United States altogether, and in some cases causing the deportation of military personnel or their family members, said attorney and Lieutenant Colonel Margaret D. Stock in Congressional testimony last May, according to a report from Sefsaf.
Earlier this year, the U.S. military launched a recruiting effort promising expedited citizenship to “temporary immigrants” — those living in the United States a minimum of two years — who join the armed forces, reported the New York Times. The program will begin small, recruiting up to 1,000 enlistees, and if successful, will expand to all branches of the military. “Pentagon officials expect that the lure of accelerated citizenship will be powerful,” the Times noted.
U.S. Immigration Rising Sharply
Estimates of the numbers of immigrants in the United States range from 28.4 to 31.1 million, explains the American Friends Service Committee, a non-profit faith-based group that supports immigrant communities across the United States. Immigration has been rapidly increasing in recent decades and may have doubled since 1970.
The American Friends Service Committee’s “Immigration Stories” project documents how current U.S. immigration policy impacts lives and families. Common Dreams