The U.S. government has closed naturalization centers at three basic combat training sites, citing new DoD policy that extends the amount of time immigrant recruits are required to serve before becoming eligible for citizenship.
‘The three locations — Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Fort Benning in Georgia, and Fort Jackson, in South Carolina — provide 10 weeks of basic combat training for new recruits.
However, in Oct. 2017 DoD changed the amount of time recruits are required to serve to 180 days minimum before becoming eligible for citizenship.
DoD’s policy change meant none of the recruits at those three installations would have served 180 days before moving on to individual training, so it “made no sense” to keep the offices open in those locations, said R. Carter Langston, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and and Immigration Services.
The sites were closed in January, he said.
“We still support military naturalizations,” Langston said, noting that there are still centers open at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and the Marine Corps Recruit Depots at Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, Califronia.
However the closure comes amid reports that the number of service members naturalized has dropped 16 percent in the last year, with hundreds of service member applications denied, terminated or withdrawn.
USCIS reported that it naturalized 7,360 service members in fiscal year 2017, down from 8,770 in fiscal year 2016. There were 5,900 naturalization applications still pending as of Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, which was the most recent data available.
Langston said that service members with questions about their naturalization application could call a military helpline at 877-CIS-4MIL (877-247-4645) or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with their application.
The closures were first reported by Buzzfeed and generated criticism from some members of Congress.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Black Hawk pilot who lost her legs in combat in Iraq in 2004, called the decision shameful.
“If you are able and willing to wear the uniform of this great nation, you should have the opportunity to become an American citizen,” Duckworth said in a statement. “The closure of these offices makes that significantly harder and it violates the commitment we have made to thousands of brave men and women who signed up to defend our country.”
It was not clear if the three shuttered facilities would be reopened in other locations, to be able to process new service members who have completed the 180 days.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."