Immigrants have played a significant role in every major American military conflict, beginning with the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton, for one, led Americans against the British at the final battle of Yorktown, and established the Coast Guard when the war was won. More than a fifth of Union soldiers that fought in the Civil War were born overseas, and a fifth of the U.S. Army in World War I was made up of immigrant service members. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have fought for America in both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all other conflicts to the present day.
In recognition of immigrant service member’s patriotism and sacrifice alongside U.S. citizen service members, and to entice new recruits, the newly independent States began the now well-established tradition of granting citizenship to immigrants who served during war and times of conflict, a tradition we should be proud of and one that continues today. Immigration law requires the process to be expedited for service members, allowing them to naturalize after one year of honorable service, or to do so immediately if they serve during a designated “period of hostilities,” such as the War on Terrorism (which began on September 11, 2001 and continues today).
While military naturalizations represent a small part of all naturalizations granted each year – less than 1% annually since 2000 – the tradition of allowing immigrant service members to earn citizenship remains a central value of our historic responsibility for all individuals who serve in the U.S. military, no matter their origin or national background. Over the last century, military service has provided a pathway to American citizenship for more than 760,000 immigrant service members, including more than 260,000 since 1960.