Noncitizen Military Service Members Ask Court to Decide Long-Delayed Appeal of Trump Policy that Destroyed Path to Citizenship

June 10, 2024 5:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — Years after a federal court ordered the government to reinstate a long-available and expedited path to citizenship for noncitizen military service members, these members remain in a state of uncertainty. Today, military service members are asking a federal appeals court to order the Biden administration to move forward with their defense of the Trump-era policy that eviscerated expedited citizenship for noncitizen service members.

Congress has granted service members an expedited path to citizenship since the War of 1812, including under the Immigration and Nationality Act, but a 2017 Trump administration policy sought to deprive them of these benefits. In April 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit challenging the policy on behalf of thousands of noncitizen military service members and in August 2020, a court struck down that policy. The Trump administration appealed the decision two months later. Rather than abandon the appeal, the Biden administration asked the court to pause the case while it developed a new policy. With just months remaining in President Biden’s current term, the administration has produced no such policy.

“By preserving Trump’s appeal of this unlawful policy, the Biden administration has left thousands of service members in an intolerable state of purgatory,” said Scarlet Kim, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Congress and the courts have made it clear that if you are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for America, you are — and should be — entitled to be an American. Time is now up; the government must either defend the Trump policy or drop its appeal, like it should have done long ago.”

As a result of the Trump policy, many service members entitled to U.S. citizenship were unable to apply for naturalization. These delays meant service members could not enjoy the protections of citizenship, including while deployed abroad and serving in combat, as well as the benefits that Congress intended for them, such as exercising the right to vote or traveling with a U.S. passport. The promise of citizenship is also a critical recruitment measure for the military, which relies on noncitizen recruits to help ensure military readiness.

Despite the Biden administration’s initiatives to support noncitizen veterans, the Defense Department has continually failed to adequately support the expedited naturalization of service members. In August 2021, after documenting the Pentagon’s continued implementation of the Trump policy, the ACLU filed a motion seeking the Biden administration’s compliance with the court order. In this new filing, the service members are asking the court to finally hear the government’s defense of the Trump-era policy and end this period of uncertainty.

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