National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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New Americans in the Armed Forces

November 11, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Military naturalization


Thankfully, most Americans don’t have to risk their lives to defend the country.  Today is Veterans Day, a day when we reflect on those who do risk their lives to defend our freedoms. 


Thousands of the service men and women who are deployed around the world, defending the freedoms that citizens take for granted, are not citizens themselves, or have only recently become citizens.  According to a report issued last year by the Immigration Policy Center, more than 114,000 immigrants were serving in the military in 2009.  Of those, approximately 14,500 were not yet citizens. 


A willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a country that is not yet yours might be hard to understand for those of us born here.  But for many born abroad, America is full of opportunities they may never have had if they did not come here.


For Ambassador John Gunther Dean (whose story is posted here), the opportunity America provided was the chance to live his life.  He and his family came from Germany to America, fleeing Nazi persecution in the late 1930s.  When Dean was a student at Harvard, America went to war.  Dean jumped at the chance to serve a “bigger cause” and put his German language skills to use in the Office of Military Intelligence.


Recognizing the tremendous sacrifice of immigrant soldiers, the government has done a better job of streamlining the citizenship process for armed forces men and women.  In the government’s Fiscal Year 2010 alone, more than 11,000 service men and women were given their citizenship—more than in any year since 1955.  Yesterday, 75 service members from 24 countries were sworn in as citizens in a special ceremony where they were addressed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas.


Some military service members (citizens and non-citizens alike) find that their family members receive no special treatment from our broken immigration system.  It is not uncommon for a military service member to return from combat duty only to discover that his or her spouse is going to be deported.  A soldier who has put his or her life on the line fighting for this country may return home to wage a second battle against a broken immigration system that shows no mercy to his or her wife or husband. 


While it has become easier for members of the military to gain their citizenship, there is little prospect that Congress will, in the near future, make it easier for military families of mixed immigration status to remain together.


Image from the White House.

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