The Immigration and Nationality Act provides noncitizen service members and honorably discharged immigrant veterans a path toward United States citizenship. The Act allows those who have honorably served in the military to apply for naturalization with a considerably reduced residency requirement. However, the current military naturalization process is riddled with complexity, excessive and arbitrary vetting practices, misinformation, and an ever-growing backlog of naturalization applications that have precipitated processing delays. These flaws result in veteran deportations, which precipitate family separations and the deprivation of healthcare for veterans. Furthermore, requiring separate enlistment and naturalization processes leads to squandered government resources in the form of wasted work hours, duplicative background checks, and the addition of more applicants to an already overburdened immigration processing backlog. Moreover, the current system has arguably led to decreased noncitizen participation in the military and deterred eligible recruits with highly sought-after skills from enlisting. Although Congress has made attempts to address the shortfalls of the system with a patchwork of legislation aimed at addressing the process’s consequences, it fails to target fundamental defects that cause them.
The most efficient and effective remedy is a bottom-up reimagining of military service for citizenship—replacing the existing framework for military naturalization with voluntary automatic citizenship upon taking the Oath of Enlistment. Such an approach can adequately incorporate the substantive requirements for citizenship, mitigate the shortcomings of the current framework, and advance both United States national security and governmental efficiency. The current enlistment process functionally duplicates the procedures for naturalization and fulfills the same substantive requirements through its application questions, military aptitude screening, background checks, and Oath of Enlistment. A voluntary automatic service for citizenship initiative would benefit immigrant service members, the United States military, and the nation as a whole.
Coleman, Ryan P., "A Truer Concept of Service for Citizenship: Reimagining Military Naturalization" (2022). Connecticut Law Review. 516.