Immigration Law

You Can Die For America, But You Can't Vote

"Kenyan native John Chombo was studying in the United States to become a nurse when he heard the U.S. Army was looking for people with health care or special language skills.

He was qualified on both counts. He was studying nursing and was fluent in Swahili. In 2013 he was accepted into the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, designed for legal noncitizens, such as foreign students and agricultural workers. Since MAVNI began in 2009, more than 4,000 people have enlisted through the program.

Chombo, who asked that his real name not be used, applied for U.S. citizenship during basic training, a requirement of MAVNI. He expected his application to go through without a hitch. He had already passed a stringent background check necessary for MAVNI, one akin to those needed for top-secret government clearance.

But his case wasn’t that simple.

Chombo is one of thousands of members of the military caught between two sets of standards: one for military enlistment, another for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. The difference means they find themselves unable to become citizens of a country for which they are willing to die.

The military never promises citizenship. While it is quick to disavow any promises, citizenship is often highlighted in recruitment. The majority of applicants from the military gain citizenship, but more than 7,200 were denied from 2003 to 2014, according to a spokesman for U.S. immigration services." - Joanna S. Kao, May 8, 2015.