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U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Timothy Bowman, the Los Angeles Military Entrance Processing Station operations officer, administers the oath of enlistment to applicants enlisting into the U.S. Armed Forces at the LA MEPS in El Segundo, Calif., April 1. The Marine Corps, in collaboration with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, have reinstated the expedited naturalization program in order to provide qualified recruits the opportunity to become naturalized U.S. citizens upon completion of recruit training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney G. White)

Photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney White

Expedited Naturalization returns to MCRD San Diego

12 Apr 2024 | Staff Sgt. Courtney White 12th Marine Corps District

As recruits arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego this week, a new chapter of patriotism and opportunity unfolded. With the revival of expedited naturalization, eight recruits from the 12th Marine Corps District arrived to embark on a journey that will conclude with both the title Marine and U.S. Citizen.

Commencing April 1, the Marine Corps, in collaboration with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, have reinstated the expedited naturalization program in order to provide qualified recruits the opportunity to become naturalized U.S. citizens upon completion of recruit training.

“It’s an opportunity for us to bring in non-U.S. citizens that have I-551 Green Cards that are going through the typical naturalization process,” said CWO3 Matthew Alderman, the enlisted operations officer for 12th MCD. “April 1 is going to be the first week we turned this program back on in several years.”

According to Alderman, the district’s goal was to get at least half of the qualified shippers leaving for recruit training on April 1 to submit for the program. Ultimately, the district had eight eligible shippers and all eight elected to participate.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Alderman. “It’s an excellent sign of what’s to come and I hope they keep applying. There’s really no draw back here.”

Since 2002, more than 148,000 service members have been naturalized, and many were assisted in the process through the Department of Defense and USCIS partnerships such as the “Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative.”

“It’s not difficult and it’s available to any immigrant that’s in our pool that’s a non-citizen that’s shipping,” said Alderman. “The only steps required prior to shipping are to complete the N-400 form application for naturalization and get a passport photo taken and then everything else is done here on the depot including the extra fingerprints.”

Upon arrival at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, during receiving week, the WRR Recruit Liaison Section will assist the recruit in obtaining a signed USCIS Form N-426, also known as a Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, and submitting their application. While the recruit is in training, the liaison will mail the recruit’s fingerprint cards on their behalf to the USCIS National Benefits Center for processing.

During the recruit’s Team Week, USCIS will interview the applicant, administer the citizenship test, and administer the Oath of Allegiance. At this point, the recruit will be a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

Lastly, during the final week of recruit training on Family Day, a ceremony will be held to present the new U.S. citizens with their naturalization certificates in front of their family and friends in attendance.

“This program means a lot to me because it allows me to get expedited citizenship through service,” said Jonas Sinhue Hernandez, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, and a recruit participating in the program. “It helps me get to another goal that I’ve been wanting to complete.”

According to Hernandez, his path like many other immigrants, has been a long journey.

“The road to becoming a citizen is just very long,” said Hernandez, a graduate of Wallis Annenberg High School in Los Angeles. “It can take several years, maybe up to a decade depending on where you start off on that road. Each path to becoming a citizen has its own trajectory and several years that you have to wait just to become eligible to apply for citizenship. This program is important as it helps a lot of people especially those who have been waiting a long time.”

Jun Young Kim, a native of Seoul, South Korea, is also a recruit utilizing the program.

“This means everything to me,” said Kim. “It’s finally giving me a chance to become a citizen and that has been something I’ve been waiting to do for a very long time.”

Kim, a graduate of Granada Hills Charter High School in Granada Hills, California, immigrated to the United States at 8-years-old with every document necessary to become a citizen. Unfortunately, through the shuffle of life, documents were lost, and Kim and his family have since been trying to get everything sorted.

“I’ve been trying to enlist since I was 18 years old, but that opportunity never happened because I didn’t have my Green Card back then,” said Kim. “When I got my Green Card, I took the opportunity. Then this popped up a couple of months ago and it just worked. It just sped up everything for me. This opportunity gets me straight to becoming a citizen and to be able to help my family out. There are a lot of people out there like me who are just stuck, and this really opens up a lot for not only yourself, but for your family.”

The immigration benefits and services that come with enlistment are not only important to non-citizen service members and their family members, but also for subsequent recruitment and retention efforts.

“I think from the recruiting effort in general, it’s a powerful program,” said Alderman. “This is potentially the one thing, the one feature and benefit, that we can offer applicants that will put them over the edge to commit to an enlistment, if they are teetering on the edge, and it is a big one!”

For more information regarding the expedited naturalization process, contact your local U.S. Marine Corps recruiter.

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