ACLU: Pentagon still using Trump policy blocking service members’ path to citizenship

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The Pentagon is still operating under a Trump administration policy that blocks foreign-born service members from an expedited path to citizenship, according to court papers filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) late Tuesday.

The motion filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claims the Defense Department is defying an August 2020 court ruling that said the policy — which requires new recruits to serve for six months to a year before they could apply for naturalization — is unlawful.

“The Department of Defense is defying a federal court order to restore an expedited path to citizenship for U.S. military service members,” the ACLU said in a statement Wednesday. “Over the past year, numerous class members at multiple U.S. Army installations consistently report that military officials continue to impose these unlawful requirements and obstruct service members from seeking U.S. citizenship in direct violation of the court’s order.”

The Hill has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.

Noncitizens who serve in the U.S. military are eligible for expedited citizenship under the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. But to qualify for the process, troops must get 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 Trump administration had the Pentagon change the process. Among the new requirements were that active-duty troops have to serve for at least 180 days and members of the Selected Reserve for at least a year. The administration cited national security concerns for the additional steps.

In April 2020, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the policy, arguing the new steps unlawfully blocked troops’ ability to use the expedited process to which they are entitled.

In August of the same year, a federal district court sided with the ACLU and ruled that the minimum service requirement was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court also ordered the military to process paperwork within 30 days.

The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the court has not yet ruled on the appeal.

“Our clients are deeply dismayed that the Pentagon continues to block military service members’ path to citizenship in direct defiance of the court’s order and in violation of federal law,” Scarlet Kim, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement.

The Pentagon in June announced its intention to rescind the Trump administration policy, pending a review.

The ACLU said Wednesday that its negotiations with the Biden administration had reached an impasse because the military “failed to take actions necessary to fix the issues faced by service members.”

In its motion, the ACLU said the Pentagon continues to enforce the Trump-era policy, claiming that at four of the five Army basic training bases, service members are told they need to complete the minimum service requirements to be eligible for naturalization.

The filing also alleges that many service members have been waiting months for the Pentagon to process their requests for certification, well past the 30-day timeline the court required.

More than 100,000 people have used the military’s expedited path to citizenship since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the ACLU.

“We’ve repeatedly presented the Pentagon with evidence of its non-compliance and proposed reasonable solutions, like identifying an official to assist service members whose chains of command refuse to help them obtain the military certification necessary for the citizenship process,” Kim said. “Instead, the Pentagon has done virtually nothing and subjected service members to Kafkaesque ordeals that have further delayed their attempts to become U.S. citizens as Congress promised.”

Tags ACLU Defense Department Military service Naturalization path to citizenship Trump-era policy

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