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How Protections For Immigrant Service Members Have Changed Under Trump

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. As we just heard, the changes announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will affect some members of the military. And our next guest sees these new regulations as part of a bigger picture. Margaret Stock is a retired Army lieutenant colonel. She served in the military police and is now an attorney who focuses on immigration and citizenship law. Welcome.

MARGARET STOCK: Thank you for inviting me on your show.

CHANG: So I know that you had the chance to talk to one of our producers before this interview, and you told him that you see this latest announcement as part of a pattern. What do you mean by that?

STOCK: There's been a pattern in the last few years of tightening up the rules to prevent people from immigrating legally to America, making it tougher to get citizenship, making it tougher to get a green card, making it more difficult to get any kind of immigration status.

CHANG: And with respect to members of the military, do you see the latest announcement as part of a pattern within the military?

STOCK: Well, we've seen - it's become more difficult under the Trump administration for members of the military to get citizenship. It's been more difficult for them to get paperwork filed for their family members. It's more difficult for them to prevent the deportation of their family members.

CHANG: Well, how are they making it more difficult? What examples do you have?

STOCK: During the Obama administration, Janet Napolitano had created a program called basic training naturalization. It allowed the troops to get their citizenship really quickly. And the Trump administration has eliminated that program. They've also made it harder for the troops to file applications for citizenship. And it's taking much longer for them to make a decision on those applications. Recently they also announced they were going to close some of the international USCIS offices that process people for citizenship overseas, which will make it even more difficult for military members.

CHANG: Now, I understand that you were one of the people who started a program to recruit people who aren't U.S. citizens into the U.S. military. That program was known as MAVNI - Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. The program has effectively been suspended - right? - but it already started slowing down during the Obama administration. Is that right?

STOCK: Yes, the Obama administration had temporarily halted the program in September 2016. It was supposed to be a temporary halt, but the program has now been effectively killed off. And it was killed off ultimately by a change in the law that was requested. The administration changed the law to prevent the program from operating in the future the way it had operated in the past.

CHANG: Let me ask you, why shouldn't there be close vetting for people who are not U.S. citizens who want to serve in the military?

STOCK: Well, there should be close vetting, but there was close vetting. They just decided that too many people were passing the vetting, and they needed to have more vetting that people would fail.

CHANG: You are now an immigration attorney, but you did have a career in the military. Let me ask you, how do you think these new policies under the Trump administration - how they affected military readiness?

STOCK: They're hurting the military. They prevent people who've joined the military from getting their citizenship, which creates security problems in and of itself. To give you the classic example, they recruit people who have a green card, and they let them into the U.S. military.

So the person might, for example, be a male from South Korea. He's now joined the U.S. military. He doesn't have U.S. citizenship yet. He can't deploy to South Korea because the South Korean government will arrest him for not performing his South Korean military service, which is mandatory for all South Korean citizens who are males.

CHANG: Yeah.

STOCK: So it's been chaotic for the military. And any immigration lawyer with expertise in military immigration issues is completely inundated right now. We didn't have this problem 10 years ago - just wasn't a problem. It is now.

CHANG: That's Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in the U.S. military police. We reached her in Anchorage, Alaska, where she works as an immigration attorney. Thanks so much for joining us today.

STOCK: Thank you very much for having me on the show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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