By Debbie Gregory.
U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle has ordered the Department of Defense not to block fast-tracked citizenship applications for some 2,000 foreign-born U.S. Army Reserve soldiers.
Foreign-born military recruits who possessed skills urgently needed in U.S. military operations were promised a quicker route to citizenship in their enlistment contracts.
The federal judge also said that the members of the military in an on-going lawsuit will more than likely be able to prove that the crackdown on immigrant recruits were “arbitrary and capricious.”
Huvelle said the DoD action threatens a delay for soldiers’ citizenship applications by years, upends their lives, blocks their careers and potentially exposes them to deportation.
“Plaintiffs live in constant fear that they will lose their work or student visas, or be discharged, deported, and subject to harsh punishment in their country of origin for joining a foreign military,” Huvelle wrote.
The judge decided to grant provision class-action status to some of the affected soldiers. The lead plaintiffs are Mahlon Kirwa, Santhosh Meenhallimath and Ashok Viswanathan.
At issue is a program in which the Pentagon approved requests for an “N-426” form, certifying the active-duty or Selected Reserve status of qualified enlistees in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. The MAVNI program has allowed recruits with critically needed skills, such as certain health care professionals and experts in certain languages to apply for citizenship when they begin training if they agreed to eight years of military service.
What was previously a quick application process at enlistment recently ended when the Pentagon began requiring additional screening of program participants.
Huvelle said the delays were “not justified by any national security concerns” because U.S. immigration authorities are holding all applications pending completion of military screening.
Citizenship can be revoked if recruits are not honorably discharged.