The ceremony, held in the USS Yorktown Visitor’s Center, was led by the Honorable Judge Heather McShain, magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Midwest work with RTC to expedite citizenship for recruits who are qualified under the Immigration & Nationality Act Section 329, which allows expedited naturalization for aliens and non-citizen nationals serving in an active-duty status.
Naturalization ceremonies were halted in 2017 due to a DoD policy extending the amount of time military members were required to serve before becoming eligible for citizenship. This changed on February 2, with the signing Presidential Executive Order 14012, which requires the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS to facilitate naturalization for members of the military.
“During [processing days], recruits are screened for their citizenship status and a list of non-U.S. citizens for a training group is compiled,” said Lt. Leslie Liang, RTC’s naturalization officer. “The naturalization team representative is tasked with sitting down with the recruits to fill out their Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service and Application for Naturalization forms.”
Once the application and any additional required documents are mailed and processed, the recruits are interviewed by USCIS and must pass an English and civics test. If the application for naturalization is granted, RTC’s naturalization team work to coordinate a ceremony with USCIS and the District Court of Illinois. From start to finish the process takes about eight weeks.
“Recruits should ensure they bring any and all documentation related to naturalization to RTC, such as a green card, passport, state ID, marriage certificate, and divorce decree,” said Liang. “[They] are provided with a study guide for the interview and civics test after they apply and are encouraged to study the material in preparation for their interview.”
One recruit who received her citizenship during this ceremony was Airman Luisa Sanchez, who is originally from Columbia, and joined the Navy from New Jersey.
“It feels very nice because it’s something for years you’ve had in your mind, and you knew that you needed to work for it, because nobody gave it to you for free,” said Sanchez. “Now that I’m a citizen, I can travel to more countries and not have to worry about being back in the United States in six months, and I can apply for a better job in the Navy.”
Sanchez, who is currently enlisted under the Airman Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks program said her dream job is to be able to work on submarines.
“Now with my citizenship I can actually do that,” she said.
Sanchez’s celebration didn’t end with her newly acquired citizenship. The next day she graduated from boot camp and became a United States Sailor, with her mother and father watching in the audience.
Her father also just received his citizenship and had nothing but praises for his daughter upon liberty call.
“I’m really happy because now she can start a new life and have new opportunities, and I’m really happy for my daughter,” he said.
Liang feels strongly about the RTC naturalization program for personal reasons and is honored to be part of bringing the program back.
“The program is very near and dear to my heart. My parents were born in China and immigrated to America in the early 1990s,” said Liang. “After residing in America with their Permanent Resident Card (green card) for 20 or so years, they finally became naturalized as U.S. citizens. In the same way my parents were afforded an opportunity to come to America to seek a better future for our family, I am beyond ecstatic to be able to assist others in becoming naturalized.”
Liang said he hopes RTC will continue a monthly ceremony due to the success of the program restarting.
Boot camp is approximately 10 weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 40,000 recruits train annually at the Navy’s only boot camp.
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