Thousands of men and women in a special military program, including some University of Minnesota international students and alumni, are now closer to getting their U.S. citizenship through service.
Following a recent suit against the Department of Defense, legal non-immigrants enlisted in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program were notified Oct. 25 that the department would, once again, be compelled to file and acknowledge soldiers' drill attendance — a requirement on participants' paths to citizenship.
MAVNI is a part of the military that lets skilled legal non-immigrants obtain U.S. citizenship after serving four to six years, said Linda Aaker, an attorney with the University Student Legal Services. In June 2016, the DOD tried to change existing naturalization requirements for enlistees.
“Prior to the MAVNI fiasco, those in the select ready reserves only had to do one day of service to get certification,” Aaker said. “That was the law. The DOD tried to say they needed to do basic training plus a year of service.”
Brad Lim, MAVNI enlistee and a University computer science graduate, is one of the 2,000 recruits affected by this decision.
Lim said the department wasn't going to take any more citizenship documents from soldiers who filed them after Oct. 13, but MAVNI reserve soldiers who haven’t yet registered their documents can now do so.
The DOD’s refusal would have rendered soldiers unable to file an N-426, one of the two documents needed to apply for naturalization. This would make soldiers unable to get the U.S. citizenship they were promised, according to court documents.
Kirwa v. U.S. Department of Defense, one of many lawsuits being processed against the DOD, concerns specific complaints that the DOD attempted to unjustly refuse to certify or file soldiers’ naturalization papers.
The judge’s decision will let MAVNI reserve soldiers finish part of their naturalization process, court documents say.
The class certification issued by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said her legal order would apply to all MAVNI reservists in similar situations. This includes University students who are MAVNI reserve soldiers trying to file their N-426 documents.
Lim said he filed his N-426 several months ago and has completed required weekend drills once a month since he enlisted in December 2015. Before the lawsuits, the DOD wasn't going to count these drills as honorable service — which would have prevented Lim from filing his N-426, he said.
Now, the department will once again qualify these drills as honorable service.
Hyunkyu Park is a recent psychology graduate from the University and a MAVNI reserve soldier who enlisted in May 2016. He had not filed his N-426 yet and was almost denied eligibility to fill out the document.
If the DOD had succeeded in refusing to acknowledge honorable service from MAVNI reservists, Park would have had to serve in the Korean military just as all Korean male citizens are required to do after becoming an adult, he said.
“I have to go back to Korea … if they don't let me fill out the N-426,” Park said. “If they hadn’t been stopped, I would have [an] army problem in Korea.”