Federal Court Rules Trump Can’t Block Citizenship Path for Military Service Members

August 25, 2020 3:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — A federal court today ruled that the Trump administration’s policy of depriving military service members of an expedited path to citizenship is unlawful. The ruling comes in a lawsuit, Samma v. U.S. Department of Defense, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of eight non-citizen U.S. service members who represent a class of thousands in uniform. The plaintiffs include active-duty service members who are long-time permanent residents and one DACA recipient.

“Congress has long recognized that immigrants who serve in the military during wartime are entitled to be Americans,” said Scarlet Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “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.”

Through the Immigration and Nationality Act, Congress has for decades granted non-citizen service members the right to naturalize through an expedited process, waiving many of the typical requirements for citizenship. An October 2017 Trump administration policy introduced several onerous requirements that have effectively deprived service members of the expedited path to citizenship guaranteed by Congress. In the year following the policy’s implementation, the government reported a 72-percent drop in military service members’ naturalization applications from pre-policy levels.

The court today struck down the requirement that service members serve for six months or a year before being eligible to apply for expedited naturalization. In a prior ruling, the Court certified a class of non-citizen service members to challenge the minimum service duration requirement of the October 2017 policy.

As a result of the Trump administration policy, non-citizen service members have been denied the rights and privileges that accompany citizenship, including the right to vote, the right to sponsor non-citizen family members, and the right to travel with a passport. They also face heightened risks overseas due to, for instance, lack of access to consular services and protection typically available to citizen counterparts.

The decision is here: https://www.aclu.org/samma-v-dod-memorandum-opinion.

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