This article will address the eligibility requirements for members of our armed services to apply for United States citizenship, expedited or otherwise. This article will also address Wilner & O'Reilly's commitment to public service and the firm's role in the naturalization process for our local soldiers.
In a recent presentation at the Nixon Center, Eduardo Aguirre, Director of the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services Branch commented as follows:
Citizenship is, by definition, a condition of allegiance to, and participation in, a governmental jurisdiction. It means, for a collective order, a pledge of loyalty, commitment to actively participate in civics and community., and willingness to serve when and where called upon.
The Willingness To Serve
Veteran's Day 2003 was the most recent reminder of the sacrifices our soldiers have made for the rights not only of American citizens, but the citizens of civilized countries throughout the world. A soldier's willingness to serve and make the ultimate sacrifice for many of the very freedoms that we take for granted, cannot be overstated. Ironically, a majority of the first soldiers killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom were lawful permanent residents of the United States; not citizens.
Last week, President Bush signed an Executive Order whereby approximately 100 men and women from our military were expeditiously naturalized given their service in our nation's war against terrorism. Reason being: soldiers are often subject to different naturalization regulations than the civilian.
Section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides in paraphrased part that a permanent resident has served honorably at any time in the Armed Forces of the United States for a period of 3 years, may be naturalized. By way of comparison, civilians are required to have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years prior to applying for citizenship unless one's permanent residence was acquired through marriage to a United States citizen.
As hinted at above by way of President Bush's recent Executive Order, in the event that a lawful permanent resident has actively served in the military during a period of hostilities, i.e. has been engaged in combat duty, the 3-year service period is waived and the soldier can be Naturalized by way of Executive Order.
Service in The National Guard-Active Duty and Reserves
Soldiers that serve in the National Guard are subjected to different regulations then soldiers that serve in other branches of the military. In short, reduced periods of physical presence (5 years to 3 years) is only applicable to National Guard soldiers if their specific unit is federally recognized as a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States. This will apply to many local soldiers now with the activation and deployment of those stationed at the 40th Infantry in Los Alamitos.
Photograph of Attorney Wilner with military escort to present Naturalization Seminar to soldiers at Camp Roberts.
Soldiers whose units have been activated, or are otherwise eligible for expedited naturalization based on military service are subjected to different filing requirements as well. Traditionally, an Application for Naturalization is filed at the Service Center with jurisdiction over one's place of residence. Eligible soldiers, however, would normally file their applications with the Nebraska Service Center and then would be given expedited walk-in processing at the local district office with certain officers that have been designated to oversee military Naturalizations. These same officers participate in the military Naturalization program that is overseen by the firm of Wilner and O'Reilly.
Military Naturalization Project
Through the guidance and direction of Los Angeles District Director Jane Arellano, senior Judge Advocate General Attorney Linda C. Harrel and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, we have coordinated a joint-effort to naturalize our soldiers. This joint effort is comprised of active duty soldiers, many of whom are BCIS officers, other local BCIS officers, paralegals and other assistants from the Judge Advocate General's Office.
Attorney Richard M. Wilner, of Wilner & O'Reilly has conducted 2 seminars to date, the most recent of which is noted above and occurred at Camp Roberts in Central, California. Prior to that, a seminar was conducted at the Ontario Armory in Ontario, California. In total, there were approximately 150 soldiers in attendance.
The Naturalization Project anticipates that by first quarter of 2004, approximately 400 applications for Naturalization will be filed. Attorney Wilner has dedicated his personal and his firm's time, free of charge, for this worthy cause. In addition, the firm is actively engaged in the lobbying process in an effort to get the $310 filing fee waived for these solders, as many of them cannot afford it and it is simply the filing fee that serves as the impediment to these soldiers naturalizing (and therefore re-enlisting). Unfortunately, military law prevents donations from the public being used to pay for these filing fees.
Commitment to Public Service
Veteran's Day 2003 should serve as a reminder of the sacrifices that our veteran's of past and present wars have made to the functioning of our society. It should also serve as a reminder that one's participation in American society can be made through public service.
Of equal importance, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, and our young men and women being separated from their families by way of their willingness to serve, one should be reminded to do their part. Whether it be through your local secular of religious organizations, or organizations at the State or Federal level, one should be encouraged to sacrifice their time to help others that are in need.
In the year 2002, approximately 640,000 people became American Citizens. While the numbers are not in yet for this year, hopefully they will be higher than before. With the year 2003 coming to an end, make a promise to yourself to take the greatest oath of all. The oath of allegiance that follows the successful completion of your application for Naturalization.