The US government has made it harder for non-US citizens to join the military and harder to acquire US citizenship through military service if they do join, according to US immigration attorney Margaret Stock. As a result, the number of immigrants serving today in the US military has fallen to less than 4 percent. Stock spoke to GI Rights counselors at the annual conference of the GI Rights Network in May.
Several policy changes have directly impacted non-citizens in the Armed Forces. Last year the Trump administration rescinded protections that prevented the deportation of undocumented spouses and children of active duty military members. The Military Times reported April 1 that over 11,800 troops currently have family members facing deportation.
The Trump administration also shut down plans to reopen the program known as Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program or MAVNI. The program had been suspended since the fall of 2016 when it stopped taking new members. Begun in 2009, MAVNI made it possible for many people considered “legal aliens” to become citizens while serving in the US military. For people already in MAVNI some participants who have already been promised citizenship in exchange for military service are now being impeded by the federal government from acquiring their citizenship. A number of them are suing for their right to obtain citizenship and to secure requisite security clearances for promotion. Other MAVNI members who have received conditional citizenship are finding obstacles to completing their 5-year service requirement. The situation for different MAVNI members keeps changing because of ongoing federal lawsuits. People looking for more information about MAVNI status can see below for legal resources.
Meanwhile, green card holders who join the military are now experiencing lengthy delays in background checks required for security clearances, according to Stock, which can lead to significant delays in shipment to training and to naturalization. Permanent residents may find faster paths to citizenship outside of military service.
Military members who require information about their specific situation can seek free legal advice and representation from the American Immigration Lawyer's Association’s Military Assistance Program.