U.S. immigration reaches out to military Soldiers and spouses
May 5, 2009
- About 35,000 non-citizens serve in the military and about 8,000 enlist every year.
Non-citizens have served in the U.S. Army since the American Revolution. In fact, almost half of Army enlistees in the 1840s were immigrants, and between 1862 and 2000, more than 660,000 military veterans became citizens through naturalization.
Today, about 35,000 non-citizens serve in the military and about 8,000 enlist every year.
According to Leslie Lord at U.S. Army Human Resources Command, many have used military service as a stepping stone to citizenship.
"It is also true that some Soldiers have one or more Family members, especially a spouse, who is not a U.S. citizen," Lord said.
The Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) created Issue Paper #515 in response to Family members encountering problems with the citizenship and residency application process.
"In 2003, AFAP raised this issue to persuade the Army Community Service (ACS) centers to do for Families with immigration issues what the Staff Personnel Offices, Military Personnel Divisions and Military Personnel Offices have been doing to assist Soldiers with applications for citizenship since 2000, when the Soldier Citizenship Application Program got started," Lord said.
In this issue, AFAP recommended installations designate and train a liaison to assist Family members in the CIS process, and coordinate with CIS for approval of Department of Defense (DoD)-administered fingerprinting and physical exams.
"Immigration laws and the procedures for applying for citizenship and lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (often called green cards) are complex. Although Soldiers themselves need apply only for citizenship, Family members are frequently new immigrants to this country who need to apply for green cards," Lord said.
Fingerprints are required as part of the application process for citizenship and LPR status.
Although CIS often uses fingerprints taken at enlistment for Soldiers who are applying for citizenship, technical problems may require Soldiers travel to a CIS fingerprint facility to accomplish this task.
For all Family members applying for citizenship or green cards, CIS will not accept DoD fingerprints; so, they must travel to a CIS fingerprint facility to have their fingerprints taken.
Bettye Donley, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command (FMWRC), who is the Action Officer working Issue #515 for AFAP says this hardship is considerable for Families with children.
"Soldiers and Family members assigned to 26 Army installations travel more than 100 miles to obtain required CIS services. This and other factors can lead to emotional hardship, additional costs, distraction from mission, and possible deportation of Family members," Donley said.
To alleviate this problem, CIS would like to bring immigration services, such as biometrics collection, informational appointments, adjustment of status and / or naturalization interviews, and naturalization oath ceremonies to the service members on a regular basis at their military installations.
CIS is committed to reaching as many service members and their families before deployment or relocation overseas where service members are increasingly challenged in seeking and receiving immigration services.
According to former CIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez thousands of immigrant Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have made extraordinary sacrifices for America.
"At CIS, we are committed to exhausting every effort to ensure a convenient, quick and secure application process for immigrant service members. These brave men and women, and their families, deserve this service, and we are proud to assist," Gonzalez said.
By June 2008, CIS Field Office Directors (FOD), during Phase One of this program, began contacting officials at installations within each branch of the military and presented "Immigration 101 Seminars" to service members and Families.
These seminars, which are ongoing, focus on immigration information important to service members and their Families, such as the military help line, address changes, capture of biometrics, military naturalization, and naturalization of eligible spouses of military members.
Phase Two of this military outreach program requires FODs to coordinate with either Regional Point of Contact (POC)s or Headquarters field operations naturalization branch POCs to ensure the availability of necessary resources.
"To assist at each of the Army's installations around the world, a relocation liaison is available to help Families coordinate with the Human Resources Command and legal office personnel," Donley said.
ACS Relocation Liaisons to CIS at installations perform a number of valuable services such as multicultural outreach programs, English as a Second Language classes, and classes on the citizenship and residency application process.
USCIS developed a web page, http://www.uscis.gov/military that contains information and links to services specifically for the military and their Families.
Terry Spearman, the Civilian Legal Assistant / CIS Military Liaison, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina staffed an action for provision of immigration physicals to military Family members at that installation.
"Approximately three years ago, I realized there were no physicians in the Army Medical Facilities authorized to conduct physicals as required by CIS. I first proposed the idea to the garrison commander and then sold the idea to the Womack Army Hospital commander who gladly signed off on the idea, knowing this would save the Soldier and his or her Family member a lot of money," Spearman said.
According to Spearman, the average cost for immigration physicals was between $300 and $700.
After getting approval from the hospital commander and meeting with the director of physical examinations, it was determined that it would be in the best interest of this program to have one of the civilian doctors assigned to the hospital conduct the physicals for continuity purposes. In July 2007, one of two civilian contract physicians met the CIS criteria and received approval to schedule the physicals.
"I assisted the doctor with submitting the required documentation and credentials to CIS for approval. Once approved, the physical examination section quickly learned there was more of a need than first realized. Appointments were in much demand," Spearman said.
According to Spearman, when other local installations heard about the savings in time and money, they began sending their clients to Womack for the physical requirements required by CIS.
In conjunction with the Foreign Born Spouses Program and the quarterly Immigration Workshop conducted at the Fort Bragg ACS office, Spearman says they jointly see about 120 clients per week with various immigration needs ranging from Petitions for Alien Relatives, Adjustments of Status, to Naturalizations.
"The folks at ACS, more specifically, Awilda Cordoba, screen many clients and determine their immigration needs, provide them with basic guidance, and then refer them to me for final processing prior to submission to immigration. ACS conducts a quarterly Foreign Born Spouse Orientation and a quarterly Immigration Workshop, both taking about four hours each," Spearman said.
CIS-approved physicians average 15 to 20 appointments weekly for physical exams of Family members seeking citizenship. Although it takes about three weeks to obtain an appointment with the CIS-approved physician, these families appreciate the cost savings.
At Fort Lewis, Wash., Jackie Seabrook is Family Services Director. She remembers the day when all of this began.
Aca,!A"Since the signing of Executive Order 13269 on July 3, 2002, including Section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, we have expedited naturalization for alien non-citizen nationals serving in an active duty status in the Armed Forces of the
United States during this period of the war on terrorism,Aca,!A? Seabrook said.
According to Seabrook, her relocation service has provided assistance to over 2,100 foreign-born Soldiers and Family members (about 300 per year) seeking guidance for citizenship and residency application process. Of this number, she says, about 98 percent have become new citizens.
Aca,!A"Wanda Abrams, CIS Liaison, acts as intermediary for Fort Lewis Soldiers and Family members who experience difficulty during this process by identifying basic requirements, offering resolutions and referrals, providing CIS packets of information, and reviewing for accuracy prior to submission,Aca,!A? Seabrook said.
At Fort Lewis, ACS offers Aca,!A"Understanding the Immigration and Naturalization ProcessAca,!A? bi-monthly with an on-site CIS agent providing direct service to assist Soldiers and Family members on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month. Other workshops are offered quarterly and annually.
Aca,!A"Every year, the Relocation Readiness Program partners annually with CIS to provide a Citizenship Ceremony at Fort Lewis during Citizenship Week. This yearAca,!a,,cs event will be held at the American Lake Community Center on September 18,Aca,!A? Seabrook said.