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Federal court strikes down service requirement policy blocking citizenship path

Federal court strikes down service requirement policy blocking citizenship path
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A federal court has struck down a Pentagon policy requiring immigrant troops to serve for six months to a year before they are eligible for expedited citizenship.

In a ruling Tuesday, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with arguments that the minimum service requirement is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

“The United States has a long history of allowing noncitizens to serve in its military and providing those who serve with an expedited path to citizenship,” wrote U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle, a Clinton appointee. “But in recent years, despite its need for noncitizen enlistees to fill its ranks, the Department of Defense ... had placed obstacles in that path to citizenship.”

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Asked for comment, the Pentagon referred The Hill to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

At issue is a 2017 Pentagon policy that requires immigrant troops to serve for a minimum amount of time before being eligible for expedited citizenship.

Noncitizens who serve in the military are eligible for expedited citizenship under the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. In order to qualify for the expedited process, troops must get a certification from the Pentagon that they have served honorably.

Troops used to be able to get that certification a day after starting service. But in 2017, the Pentagon changed the process. Among the new requirements are that active-duty troops have to serve for at least 180 days and members of the Selected Reserve for at least a year.

The Pentagon has cited national security concerns for the additional steps, saying when the policy was announced that while it “recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization.”

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In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of eight noncitizen service members, filed a lawsuit against the policy, arguing the new steps unlawfully block troops’ ability to use the expedited process to which they are entitled.

“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 Tuesday. “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.”

Updated at 8:48 p.m.