The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


B. Ryan Byrd


In the United States military, it is an aggravated felony for naturalization purposes to fraudulently enlist in the military and alter identity documents. This denotation under these circumstances does not require violence, the use of a weapon, or a formal conviction in a court of law. Acts with this designation are statutory permanent bars to citizenship because their presence in an applicant’s record prevents a finding of good moral character, one of the requirements for naturalization. Alternatively, the presence of prior crimes in a legal permanent resident’s background are not serious enough to prevent enlistment in the military. Over 31,000 non-U.S. citizens serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. After service overseas, tens of thousands of foreign-born service members choose to naturalize. These numbers indicate the need for further discourse regarding the good moral character requirement and how the expansion of the term “aggravated felony” impacts veterans. Immigration reform is one of the most contentious domestic issues of recent elections. Many people would agree the current system of good moral character analysis and the engorged list of aggravated felonies are far too draconian. However, few people can agree on a workable alternative. The old balancing test from former Section 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act articulates a framework for analyzing positive behaviors of each applicant. This test would afford combat veterans the proper respect for their heroic sacrifices. Additionally, the government’s substantial interest in vetting applicants for citizenship would remain unhindered, while providing foreign-born service members an accessible path to citizenship through military service.

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