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Immigrant soldiers: Record number naturalized in past year, most since 1955

A military naturalization ceremony held at a U.S. Army base in South Korea, December 2008
A military naturalization ceremony held at a U.S. Army base in South Korea, December 2008
Photo by U.S. Army Korea-IMCOM/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In time for Veterans Day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced yesterday that a record number of U.S. military personnel became citizens in fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30. It is the largest number of foreign-born soldiers naturalized in 55 years. From the press release:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced that in fiscal year 2010 it granted citizenship to 11,146 members of the U.S. armed forces at ceremonies in the United States and 22 countries abroad. This figure represents the highest number of service members naturalized in any year since 1955.

This number is a 6 percent increase from the 10,505 naturalizations in fiscal year 2009 and a significant increase from the 7,865 naturalizations in fiscal year 2008. Since September 2001, USCIS has naturalized nearly 65,000 service men and women, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Legal-resident soldiers, often referred to as "green card soldiers," have grown in number in recent years, especially after a series of policy changes after September 11, 2001 intended to boost military ranks by making the military more attractive to immigrants. This included a 2002 presidential order allowing non-citizens serving in the military to apply for expedited citizenship.

Green card soldiers were among the first military casualties in Iraq, among them Marine Lance Corporal José Gutierrez of Lomita, an immigrant from Guatemala who died March 31, 2003. His remarkable story from Guatemala City orphan to Marine was chronicled in a 2006 documentary.

According to a recent Associated Press story, there were 16,966 non-citizens on active duty as of last May. The story profiled a Jamaican-born veteran in deportation proceedings; in spite of the ability to obtain expedited citizenship, those who have not yet naturalized are subject to deportation if they get into trouble with the law, not a problem for veterans who are U.S. citizens.