It is easy to forget that since the inception of America, individuals who were not US citizens have fought alongside US citizens in every war – from the Revolution and Civil War right on down to our current wars. In bygone ages it was one way for an immigrant community to prove how loyal and American they actually were, for example there were three Irish only units during the Civil War (http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/the-irish-brigade).
“Since the American Revolution, immigrants have been woven into the fabric of our military. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the foreign-born composed half of all military recruits by the 1840s, and were 20 percent of the 1.5 million service members in the Union Army during the Civil War. Reportedly, half a million foreign-born troops from 46 countries served in World War I, amounting to 10 percent of the U.S. armed forces. During World War II, Congress expedited naturalization applications of noncitizens serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces, exempted them from existing age, race, and residence requirements, and ‘eliminated the requirement for proof of lawful entry to the U.S.’ Noncitizens served in the Vietnam, Korea, and Desert Storm conflicts, and immigrant service continues to be of vital importance in the post-September 11 period of conflict. Roughly 70,000 noncitizens enlisted into active duty service between 1999 and 2008, representing about 4 percent of all new enlistments. As recently as 2012, there were 24,000 noncitizens in the military, with 5,000 [lawful permanent residents (LPRs)] LPRs enlisting every year…. Overall, there are about 608,000 living foreign-born veterans of the U.S. armed forces from all over the globe,” (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf). Throughout our history it has been and still is Congress that grants permission and sets the requirements for non-US-citizens to participate in the military. To learn more about the current requirements, go to page 14 of the above pdf.
Despite service to their adopted home, many service members and Veterans do not gain assistance navigating the complex immigration process, which many people need legal help to complete, and which can prove to be life changing if the service member or Veteran gets into legal troubles or other situations that can result in deportation. It should be noted that having a clear criminal history is a requirement for getting into the military and many experts argue that legal problems often arise in part due to the experiences war exposes people to. The well documented struggles transitioning out of the military to civilian life as well as the mental health struggles of Veterans apply regardless of the individual’s citizenship status (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf).
HR 3102 aims to rectify this injustice by creating an “Office of Service Member Naturalization” within the Department of Defense (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3102/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+3102%22%5D%7D&r=1). The purpose of this office would be: “(1) to identify members of the uniformed services, including new recruits, who are not citizens of the United States; (2) to inform such members of the availability of naturalization assistance to facilitate such members in becoming citizens; (3) to help such members complete the naturalization process before their separation from the uniformed services; and (4) to coordinate points-of-contact at military installations to ensure that personnel who are responsible for assisting members through the naturalization process successfully complete their assignments,” (source: see above). These points of contact would make the necessary forms (Form N–400, Application for Naturalization, and Form N–426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) available and would, “assist members of the uniformed services, including new recruits, who are not citizens of the United States in completing the process to become a citizen of the United States. If, through no fault of the member, a member whose service has been honorable is unable to complete the naturalization process before separation from the uniformed services, the naturalization office shall continue to work with the member until completion of the naturalization process, “(source: see above).
It should be noted that this bill does not impact the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which the Trump administration referenced ending last week (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world-0/us-politics/trump-immigrant-soldiers-military-army-scheme-deportations-president-considers-scrapping-a7821636.html). Per the Department of Defense, “The Secretary of Defense authorized the military services to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest. Those holding critical skills – physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural backgrounds – would be eligible,” (https://www.defense.gov/news/MAVNI-Fact-Sheet.pdf). In essence this program offers citizenship as an incentive for foreign-born individuals, who have professional skills the military needs, to work with the US military and is a program that primarily has been used to recruit individuals specific to a country the US has a military presence in (https://www.law360.com/articles/941737/sen-urges-mattis-to-honor-citizenship-for-service-contracts; http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/pentagon-considers-ending-program-to-speed-up-citizenship-for-foreign-born-service-members/article/2627677). HR 3102 applies to individuals (the majority of whom came to the US as children) who have voluntarily enlisted into the US military independent of any incentives, regardless of skill levels and generally out of a sense of loyalty, duty and patriotism.
A very interesting and possibly unexpected fact is that, “By the Pentagon’s own analysis, noncitizens have demonstrated commitment to the military beyond their citizen peers. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that “[they] are extremely dependable … some eight, nine, or ten percent fewer immigrants wash out of our initial training programs than do those who are currently citizens. Some ten percent or more than those who are currently citizens complete their first initial period of obligated service to the country.” General Pace’s testimony has been echoed in various reports prepared by and for the military, with one report stating “relative to citizen recruits, noncitizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country,’ and have a better work ethic.” As service time increases, noncitizens’ retention rates surpass those of U.S. citizens by even wider margins, with the dropout rate for noncitizens reportedly nearly half that of U.S. citizens when service reaches four years. Noncitizen soldiers have also served with great distinction, with immigrant service members accounting for 20 percent of all individuals who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Just like their citizen brothers and sisters, noncitizens have given their lives to protect and serve the United States.” (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf).
These facts speak for the issue and it is hard to close on a powerful note, but the words of former CA Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher eloquently speak to the issue, “”If you are willing to give your life for your country, your country should be willing to give you citizenship” (http://www.deportedvets.org/).
California is actually doing quite a bit to help Californians who have served and are not US citizens become naturalized and an interesting article on this is: https://www.courthousenews.com/san-diego-leaders-lobby-bring-back-deported-veterans/. A non-profit working to help deported Veterans is: http://www.deportedvets.org/ and the ACLU report referenced earlier is a resource rich in history, information and data: http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf. If you don’t have an opinion on this issue and thus this bill, I encourage you to gain more knowledge.