In April 2020, ACLU-DC, together with the National ACLU and the ACLU of Southern California, filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Defense for denying non-citizens serving in the U.S. Armed Forces the expedited path to citizenship that such patriots have had since at least the Civil War.

The case was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, on behalf of thousands of members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, arguing that a 2017 Trump administration policy violates Congress’ clear command that non-citizens who have served honorably in the U.S. military during a period of armed conflict may naturalize, regardless of their immigration status or length of residence in the United States.

“I took an oath to protect this country and I’m doing my best to live up to the values of the Army,” said Ange Samma, who currently serves on active duty as a soldier in South Korea and is one of the six named plaintiffs in this case. “It’s been frustrating and heartbreaking not to obtain my citizenship as promised, but I will continue to honor my commitment. It’s what I would expect any American soldier to do.”

Non-citizen enlistment is integral to maintaining U.S. military readiness. Under the “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest” policy, established under President George W. Bush, the military recruited non-citizens with essential skills, such as medical training or knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. About 30% of MAVNI recruits have been assigned to Special Operations units due to their language abilities, which facilitate operations in territories with few English speakers.

UPDATE: In August 2020, the court ruled in our favor, certifying the case as a class action and issuing a permanent injunction ordering the Pentagon to process all certificates of honorable service within 30 days after a servicemember requests one, so that servicemembers’ naturalizations can move forward. The government appealed.

The appeal has been held in abeyance while the Biden administration considers policy changes. Meanwhile, however, the government has not been complying with the preliminary injunction. In summer 2021, we asked the court to intervene, which it declined to do because, essentially, the government was doing its best. We continue to notify the government of problems as they arise and lobby for broader reforms.

You can read an ACLU blog about the case here.

Date filed

April 28, 2020


U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia