Why block citizenship to immigrants who defend America?

Why block citizenship to immigrants who defend America?

In 2012, after serving in the federal immigration enforcement bureaucracy for more than 15 years, I learned from personal experience the difficulty faced by immigrants who enlist in our military but are blocked from citizenship.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, created in 2012 by the secretary of Homeland Security, was not to slow down the process for anyone entering the United States legally, according to President Obama. Yet, to illustrate what actually happened to many immigrants: If, upon concluding a shopping trip, one encounters 730,000 people cutting in line at the cash register, it cannot be said that there is no impact on one’s shopping trip.  

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Those “line cutters” sought work permits from the same staff who processed the immigration visas. This delayed the entry of my son, whom I later adopted and who now is a soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve.  

After a delay of two and a half years, he enlisted in February 2016.  Because he was a permanent resident “green card” holder, he had to be vetted to ensure he was not a threat to national security; this took over a year. He finally went to basic training in February 2017.  He was promised citizenship upon completion of basic training.

While my son, already vetted by the federal government, was in basic training fulfilling the oath he had taken, Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' US could deploy 150 troops to Syria: report MORE halted the grant of citizenship to enlistees until his staff could ascertain if there was any national security issue associated with their presence.  (The U.S. military has non-citizens in its ranks; they are not allowed to enlist in specialties that require a security clearance but can serve in other roles, such as in logistics.)  

The military withdrew a form used to inform the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service — the Department of Homeland Security agency that grants citizenship — that the person is “legally serving” in the U.S. military. Thousands of young service members who, in good faith, had done what they were told were now in limbo.

On Oct. 13, 2017, the Department of Defense (DOD) created a new vetting policy for non-citizens serving in the military. In the meantime, my son had completed basic training, completed his specialty training, and reported to his unit, a full-fledged soldier — but no longer one eligible to be a U.S. citizen.  

I started asking how he could complete his citizenship process. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told us that the Army was holding up the process. The Army said it was DOD.

In January, I obtained the October 2017 policy. It stated that individuals who had “shipped” to initial military training (“basic training”) before Oct. 13, 2017, were covered by the old policy; they were grandfathered.  

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The Pentagon bureaucracy had chosen not to trouble itself with helping apply this simple remedy to those affected. Further inquiry made it clear that they were forgotten and that to proceed, they would need the “legally serving” form restored.  

At the Pentagon, I spoke with the Army official who manages non-citizens serving in the Army.  He referred me to the DOD official. I went to the acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense and asked for 10 minutes of his time. He granted me the opportunity to explain what I knew about the problem. Then I asked him, “dad to dad,” what could be done. He introduced me to the director responsible for coordinating with USCIS.  

In three weeks, my son was tracking toward citizenship. He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen; as the senior of five service members out of a group of new citizens, he led their Pledge of Allegiance.  

I returned to thank the director who had helped us, and said I didn’t want to be the dad who helped only his son. After all, what had been done in my son’s case was no more than the proper exercise of policy.

How, I asked, could I help DOD solve this same problem for 2,900 others caught in this situation, green card holders who entered duty before Oct. 13, 2017, but were blocked from the citizenship process?  

Eight others who were in the Texas National Guard or Army Reserve learned that I understood how to get them through the process. I worked with the director and they eventually were granted citizenship. I asked for the creation of a defense policy memorandum to clarify how to restore the form that communicates between DOD and USCIS, showing that the individuals are “legally serving” so they can complete the citizenship process. The director said that my son and these others were anomalies. In other words, the system had made an isolated error and more effort was unnecessary.

Upon speaking with senior officials in the Army National Guard and Reserve, there appear to be approximately 750 such soldiers in each. I estimate some 800 in the active Army and 600 more in the other branches of the armed forces don’t know how to proceed. They likely don’t have a parent who is an immigration and military policy expert who can get into the Pentagon, and knows how to get 10 minutes of a busy official’s time.

The Reserve Organization of America has approved a resolution urging DOD to correct this error. The process advocated by ROA seems quite simple:

  • The Department of Defense should be directed to determine and identify green card holders who entered military service before Oct. 13, 2017, and   

  • Inform them and their commanders how to prepare the “N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service” (the missing document used to initiate the citizenship process).

In my visits with the staffs of Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthMissouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall MORE (D-Ill.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Sen. Kaine: No reason for US to 'engage in military action to protect Saudi oil' MORE (D-Va.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit MORE (D-Va.), and Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Ben ClineBenjamin (Ben) Lee ClineHouse fails to pass temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran House panel weighs easing federal marijuana laws MORE (R-Va.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerTen notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Centrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (D-Va.), Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonBen Carson's remarks during San Francisco visit spark backlash Democrats blast HUD for removing LGBT language from grant competition Lawmakers beat reporters in annual spelling bee competition MORE (D-Va.) and Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanVirginia Port: Gateway to the economic growth Republican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland MORE (R-Va.), I explain that these actions should help fulfill the promise of military service for a group of young patriots who ask what they can do for a country they wish to make theirs.  

Col. Monti Zimmerman retired with nearly 31 years in uniform, having served on active duty in the Air Force, in the Alaska and Texas Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve, where he served as a civil affairs officer, with deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan. His three decades in civilian law enforcement include more than 20 years in immigration enforcement.