The U.S. military has provided legal immigrants a fast track to citizenship, and they are taking advantage of it in record numbers, even if it means facing the risk of death or injury in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Interest surged after President George W. Bush signed an executive order in July 2002 allowing immigrants with green cards to become citizens as soon as they are sworn in, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Since then, more than 25,000 immigrant members of the armed services have become U.S. citizens and another 40,000 are eligible to request naturalization, USCIS said in a statement.
The numbers rose to 4,614 in fiscal 2005 ended September 30, 2005, from 749 in 2001, the agency’s figures show.
The U.S. immigration agency started in 2004 to conduct the first overseas military naturalization ceremonies since the Korean War. During fiscal 2005, 1,006 foreign-born soldiers became citizens outside the United States.
But the chance to win citizenship fast and at no cost is not the main reason foreigners join the military, said Douglas Smith, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
“Money for education, wanting to serve the country, and to learn a skill are the top three motivations,” he said.
Citizenship also means a green light to climb through the ranks of the military, said USCIS spokesman Daniel Kane, who added that patriotic pride is often a key factor.
“There’s a strong surge of patriotism among immigrants who are serving. They are grateful to the United States and they want to give back,” he said.
A total of 75 immigrant soldiers have become citizens posthumously during the U.S.-led military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq that began after the attacks of September 11, 2001.