WASHINGTON - Loopholes in immigration policy are
preventing U.S. military personnel from becoming citizens even
after years of service to the country, reported a civil rights
organization this Memorial Day.
What's the Story?
"The reason I joined the military is because I love the country -- what
it has done for me -- and I want to participate. I want to vote but I
can't. It's like I got out and I was forgotten," explains Rene from
Atlanta, a former U.S. marine who, after eight years of service, has
struggled to obtain U.S. citizenship.
While legal, permanent, resident immigrants have long volunteered to
serve in the U.S. armed forces, Rene's story "represents the great
struggle of so many immigrant servicemen and women who continue to
experience difficulties with achieving citizenship within our broken
immigration system," says the Washington, DC-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Approximately 8,000 legal immigrants join the military every year and
nearly 29,000 foreign-born people currently serve but are not U.S.
citizens, the group notes. Watch this short video to hear more of Rene's story, in his own words.
A U.S. Policy That's Supposed to Be More Open
In July 2002, a Bush administration executive order dictated that
non-citizen members of the armed forces were eligible for expedited
U.S. citizenship, reports the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank that believes "international migration
needs active and intelligent management." The move gave foreign-born
military personnel the option to apply for citizenship on their first
day of active duty.
"Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet
its recruiting goals and could not fill the need for foreign-language
translators, interpreters, and cultural experts," writes Wendy Sefsaf of the Immigration Policy Center,
which researches the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy and
society. "Since 2001, 47,500 service members have naturalized and
become U.S. citizens in ceremonies around the world." Despite these
numbers, Sefsaf notes, the country is falling short of its goals.
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And the bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining
citizenship are preventing family members from accessing immigration
benefits, keeping family members out of the United States altogether,
and in some cases causing the deportation of military personnel or
their family members, said attorney and Lieutenant Colonel Margaret D. Stock in Congressional testimony last May, according to a report from Sefsaf.
Earlier this year, the U.S. military
launched a recruiting effort promising expedited citizenship to
"temporary immigrants" -- those living in the United States a minimum
of two years -- who join the armed forces, reported the New York Times.
The program will begin small, recruiting up to 1,000 enlistees, and if
successful, will expand to all branches of the military. "Pentagon
officials expect that the lure of accelerated citizenship will be
powerful," the Times noted.
U.S. Immigration Rising Sharply
Estimates of the numbers of immigrants in the United States range from 28.4 to 31.1 million, explains the American Friends Service Committee,
a non-profit faith-based group that supports immigrant communities
across the United States. Immigration has been rapidly increasing in
recent decades and may have doubled since 1970.
The American Friends Service Committee's "Immigration Stories" project documents how current U.S. immigration policy impacts lives and families.
Global migration today is unique in its feminization, its temporary
nature, its poor working conditions, and frequent abuses and violations
of human rights. Get all the background and latest news on U.S. and
global migration issues as well as personal stories from immigrants to
the U.S. from OneWorld.net's Perspectives Magazine: "Migration - How Free Is Our Freedom to Move?"
This special edition was produced in conjunction with the ethnic news network New America Media and the Independent Television Service, whose powerful immigration series "The New Americans" will air in seven parts on PBS channels across the United States starting July 5.