“It’s important to remember that immigrants also wear the uniform and have since the founding of our nation. In fact, historically, the average number of foreign national enlistees has been 5,000 per year — that number jumped to 7,000 in 2019. . . .
“Our immigration laws recognize the sacrifices made by immigrant members of our military and lay out provisions for the expedited naturalization of foreign nationals.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement at today’s hearing, “The Impact of Current Immigration Policies on Service Members and Veterans and their Families.”
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss military issues today because, as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command, I understand the issues surrounding military service. It is Congress’ place to determine if changes should be made to U.S. law governing the treatment of the men and women who have served us.
Last week, I, along with Chairman Nadler, Chairperson Lofgren, Ranking Member Buck and other colleagues from across the political spectrum, introduced H.R. 4803, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently aligned a technical interpretation of law with the State Department’s correct interpretation. This exposed a loophole: Some children of U.S. Armed Forces members would not automatically acquire citizenship merely because their parents’ deployment abroad prevents them from meeting the residency requirement imposed in statute. H.R. 4803 would fix this unfortunate loophole.
It’s important to remember that immigrants also wear the uniform and have since the founding of our nation. In fact, historically, the average number of foreign national enlistees has been 5,000 per year — that number jumped to 7,000 in 2019.
Many of these patriots will go on to be naturalized for their service. From FY 2001 through FY 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized 129,587 members of the military, including more than 11,000 who were deployed abroad, protecting our country, at the time.
Our immigration laws recognize the sacrifices made by immigrant members of our military and lay out provisions for the expedited naturalization of foreign nationals. Any foreign national who serves in the military during hostilities, including the time period after the September 11th attacks, is eligible to apply to naturalize upon honorable service.
The Department of Defense issued a policy memo in 2017 to require a service member to have served at least 180 days for the department to certify honorable service, which is required to apply to naturalize. This aligns with longstanding Department of Defense policy that the department does not issue a characterization of service for anyone — citizen or noncitizen alike — who has not served at least 180 days.
Not all foreign nationals who serve in the military will choose to naturalize, and those who do not remain subject to our immigration laws. Although we should not shield service members or veterans from the necessary and lawful consequences of their actions, agencies handling removal cases should be particularly sensitive to a veteran’s honorable service. To that end, I expect Immigration and Customs Enforcement to consistently apply its policies that impose special handling procedures on removal cases for veterans and take into account the nature of veterans’ service in the Armed Forces.
We must be vigilant about all enlistees — citizens and foreign nationals alike — to ensure that they do not intend harm. To that end, the Department of Defense under the Obama Administration became aware of risks presented by some individuals recruited through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program and halted enlistment. The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program permitted foreign nationals with language or health care skills “vital to the national interest” to enlist in the Armed Forces, even though they were only here on temporary visas. While well intentioned, the security screening process was simply not up to the challenge of vetting a population who had spent very little time in the U.S. In addition to lacking verifiable records, investigators discovered security issues with many applicants, including questionable allegiance to the U.S., a preference for a foreign country, susceptibility of foreign influence and unexplained affluence. There is even one publicly known case in which a Chinese spy enlisted through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program.
I know the Department of Defense is improving its security screening procedures, but I remain concerned about vulnerabilities that could be presented by enlisting individuals here on only temporary status, and I support the Obama Administration’s decision to halt the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program.
I believe it would have been extremely helpful to have a Department of Defense representative testify today in order to hear the department’s reasoning behind the halting of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program enlistments, the time in service requirement and the other policies we will discuss today.
I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony today.