MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Twenty-four Marines and sailors from 16 different, originating countries became U.S. citizens during the first ever naturalization ceremony held at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Aug. 18.
The event was the first of many ceremonies to be held on military installations throughout the country as part of a new initiative from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to help service members obtain citizenship easier and faster.
“What we want to do is to bring our services to the troops,” said Jane Arellano, the district director of Los Angeles for USCIS. “We find this to be exceedingly important. We realize that their services and their mission is very important, and we want them to go to their place of duty, wherever that might be, as citizens of the United States.”
The process to become a U.S. citizen was simplified in July 2002 when President George W. Bush signed the Expedited Naturalization Executive Order calling for the accelerated naturalization of non-citizens serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Global War on Terrorism. The Executive Order allows active duty personnel serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. Before the order, a military service member had to complete one year of honorable service before qualifying to file for citizenship.
Since the order was signed, tens of thousands of American service members have become U.S. citizens.
“That order was a significant help to our service members trying to obtain a rightful citizenship.” said Caroline D’Angelo, an adjudications officer with USCIS. “Along with the immediate filing, it waived all fees involved, which was a considerable amount. Now we’re trying to follow suit and make it easier on our service members. They would have had to go all the way to Los Angeles if the ceremony was not performed on base, for example.”
D’Angelo said most of the Marines and sailors who applied for citizenship would have had scheduling conflicts for such trips due to pre-deployment training and the fact that more than half are reservists from areas such as the Northeast region, already on deployment here.
During the ceremony, Arellano explained to the Marines and sailors the importance of the new initiative.
“You’re fighting for us, you’re defending us, you should be citizens as quickly as we can get to you,” Arellano said. “If I or my staff could not have come here today it would have been at least a year or more, since most of you are deploying soon, before you could have had this chance, and that wouldn’t have been acceptable. So our bosses in Washington have told us to get into the field and make sure we set up a time and date that is convenient for you.”
Lance Cpl. Kevin Wint, a Jamaica native who became a U.S. citizen during the ceremony, said that he appreciated the eagerness of those willing to help and the overall ease of becoming a citizen of the country he serves.
“The whole process was really easy,” said Wint, a supply administrator with Headquarters and Services Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. “I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel that becoming a citizen has definitely opened up a lot of doors for me. Now, I have the benefits as a citizen right before I head to Iraq, and I know I’m going there and earning those benefits and serving my country.”
Arellano said that the whole process at the Combat Center was an immense success and the USCIS looks forward to continuing to serve those who serve their – future – country.