The 2017 policy had meant a break with a two-century tradition and a 72% drop in applications for citizenship among the military.
For more than two centuries, noncitizens serving in the US military have been provided with a direct or sped-up path to citizenship—something that has become part of the military culture and its multicultural, immigrant base. But in October of 2017, the Trump administration attempted to disrupt that tradition by imposing unprecedented requirements on the process, effectively blocking their path to citizenship.
In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action on behalf of eight noncitizen armed forces members against the US Department of Defense, asking for the courts to declare the withholding of their certifications of honorable service based on the additional requirements as unlawful.
On Aug. 25, a federal court in the District of Columbia ruled for the plaintiffs, declaring the policy that resulted in denying them an expedited path to citizenship unlawful.
“Congress has long recognized that immigrants who serve in the military during wartime are entitled to be Americans,” Scarlet Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “This decision rejects the Trump administration’s racist attempt to subvert this clear congressional mandate in furtherance of its anti-immigrant agenda. We’re pleased that our clients and thousands of others like them can finally benefit from the expedited path to citizenship they have rightfully earned through their honorable military service.”
The history of the expedited path to citizenship for army members goes back to the War of 1812, when Congress passed laws that would allow non-US citizens serving in the military to expedite their citizenship application to individuals that enlist and serve honorably during periods of armed conflict. In 1952, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which solidified the expedited military naturalization. In 2002, President George W. Bush issued an executive order speeding up the path to citizenship for noncitizens serving after the military actions launched in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Instead of this quick naturalization process for noncitizen military members, the Trump regulations imposed in 2017 meant that army members were now waiting months despite being deployed to their duty stations overseas. The new policy also forced noncitizens to submit to lengthier, more invasive background checks, severely restricting the number of officials who can issue such certifications.
The ACLU reports that since the 2017 Trump policy against non-citizen military members, the government reported a 72% drop in military service members’ naturalization applications.
According to Task & Purpose, the government rejected “16.6% of military applications for citizenship, compared to an 11.2% civilian denial rate in the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, a period that covers October to December 2018.”