Since the days of the Revolutionary War, serving in the United States military has been a way for non-citizens to gain the right to call themselves Americans. Today, the government is granting record numbers of immigrants who serve in our nation’s military, and their families, citizenship thanks to an Executive Order that was put into place shortly after 9/11.
Contrary to what some people have been lead to believe, serving in the military does not guarantee you will be granted citizenship. You must meet the basic, general requirements all who want to be citizens must meet:
- Good moral character,
- Knowledge of the English language,
- Knowledge of U.S. government and history (civics), and
- Attachment to the United States demonstrated by taking an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.
But you do get to skip over many of the other hoops non-military members must jump through, and can even go through the process while living abroad.
However, just like on the civilian side of things, getting into legal trouble can ruin your chances of gaining citizenship, and may even get you deported.
In one very recently decided case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which is a civilian court just one step down from our nation’s highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court) determined that a conviction by a special courts-martial can count as a criminal conviction for immigration purposes. In this particular case, the ex-military member had been convicted of having sex with a girl who was under the age of 16 by special court-martial clear back in 1993.
In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security said the decades old special court martial conviction, plus more recent criminal activity in the civilian world, warranted deportation. This shows just how long a court martial conviction can haunt you, and how life-changing a conviction can be.
Except where the crime is very serious, deportation is unusual. Losing your citizenship, however, is not. If you obtain U.S. citizenship through your military service, the government has the ability to revoke it if you are discharged from the military under “other than honorable conditions” before completing five years of honorable service.
If your citizenship, or the citizenship of your family members, is in any way related to your service in the United States military, and you are facing a court martial, it is critical that you consider hiring an attorney who is familiar with the military justice system to defend you.
Crossing your fingers and hoping that the attorney who is appointed to represent you will do a good job puts your entire future at risk much more so than it does if you are a non-immigrant. And working with a criminal defense attorney that does not have experience in the military justice system is also a risk, even if they are at the top of their field on the civilian side.