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US military members file suit against Pentagon over broken citizenship promise

By agency reporter
April 27, 2020

On 24 April 2020, six non-citizen US military service members filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Defence, for denying them a path to citizenship which Congress has long promised to service members under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the District of Columbia and the service members are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

The six individuals represent a class of thousands of people in uniform. They are challenging a 2017 Trump administration policy change that deprives non-citizen service members of the expedited path to citizenship guaranteed by Congress and earned through honorable military service. In the year following the policy’s implementation, the government reported a 72-per cent drop in military service members’ naturalisation applications from pre-policy levels.

The service members argue the policy is unlawful, violating Congress’ clear command that any non-citizen who has served honourably in the US military during a period of armed conflict may naturalise, regardless of their immigration status or length of residence in the United States.

“The promise of citizenship Congress has made to non-citizen service members is not just an important recruitment tool. It is a moral imperative embedded in our history, values, and laws”, said Scarlet Kim and Noor Zafar of the ACLU’s National Security Project in a blog post on the filing. “If you are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for America, you are  – and should be – entitled to be an American.”

This is the first lawsuit to be filed on behalf of all non-citizen service members denied expedited citizenship, including longtime permanent residents and active-duty service members recruited through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program.

“I took an oath to protect this country and I’m doing my best to live up to the values of the Army”, said Ange Samma, who currently serves on active duty as a soldier in South Korea and is one of the six named plaintiffs in this case. “It’s been frustrating and heartbreaking not to obtain my citizenship as promised, but I will continue to honour my commitment. It’s what I would expect any American soldier to do.”

As a result of the Trump administration policy, non-citizen service members face heightened risks overseas due to, for instance, lack of access to consular services and protection typically available to citizen counterparts. Two of the plaintiffs, who have requested anonymity, also fear deportation due to their uncertain immigration statuses.

Non-citizen enlistment is integral to maintaining military recruitment numbers. In nearly every recruitment year between 2002 and 2013, the Army would have failed its recruitment goals for its active duty force were it not for non-citizen enlistments.

The plaintiffs in the case include long-time permanent residents and one DACA recipient, and are currently serving at various bases domestically and abroad. Due to the administration’s policy and despite their honourable service to the country, they are being denied the rights and privileges that accompany citizenship, including the right to vote, the right to sponsor non-citizen family members, and the right to travel with a passport.

* Read the ACLU blog post on the case here

* American Civil Liberties Union https://www.aclu.org/

[Ekk/6]

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