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Soldiers on road to becoming naturalized U.S. citizens

Sgt. Debbieann Burton, 95th Chemical Company, gets fingerprinted by Steve Brodie, who was contracted by the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to fingerprint non-U.S. citizen Soldiers taking part in a citizenship clinic provided by the U.S. Army Alaska Legal Assistance Office Sept. 5.

Sharon McBride

Fort Richardson PAO

 Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is a more complicated process than most people realize.

For starters, an adult immigrant must know U.S. history, government and civic principles better than the average American high school student and pass a test on the information.

But that’s not all.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials, to become a naturalized citizen, one must start by fulfilling a few more general requirements, like demonstrating the ability to read, write, speak and understand basic English; showing an attachment to the principles and ideas of the U.S. Constitution; and displaying good moral character. Further applicants must have lived in the U.S. at least three months prior to filing; demonstrated a physical presence in the U.S.; displayed continuous permanent residence; be a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States; and, at the time of filing the application, must have been a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years individually or for at least three years if all eligibility requirements are met to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen.

However, as with so many issues involving the government, the devil can be in the details. To meet the above requirements, a prospective citizen must do the following and more:

All in all, the formal application process takes well over a year on average.

But for non-U.S. citizen Soldiers, USCIS expedites the formal application process to dramatically shorten the wait to just a few months, said Spc. Cedano Oscar, with the Alaska Army National Guard’s 207th Aviation Regiment.

Oscar, who is originally from Colombia, became a naturalized citizen in 2005 through the U.S. military’s expedited program.

Oscar was on hand at a Naturalization Clinic Sept. 5 at the Consolidated Education Center to help other AKNG Soldiers through the process.

The U.S. Army Alaska Legal Assistance Office hosted the clinic to help non-citizen Soldiers in Alaska interested in starting the process paddle through the sea of paperwork. The room was filled to capacity, as guest speakers from the Anchorage USCIS office dove into what it takes to become a naturalized citizen.

“It’s a very long process,” Oscar said of the presentation.

 Oscar explained as a resident he contributed by paying taxes, but wasn’t allowed to vote. By law only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in an election.

“It’s hard not having a voice. You cannot choose,” he said of the upcoming presidential election.

For Pvt. Krystal Thibault, who is also with the AKNG, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen will open up more opportunities for her in the military.

Thibault is an Australian citizen, however she joined the AKNG this year and is scheduled to attend Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. She said she wanted to get the ball rolling on becoming a naturalized citizen before shipping off later this year.

“There are certain jobs I want to do as an (military police officer), that I can’t do unless I become a naturalized citizen,” Thibault said. “It’s a lot of work, but worth the effort.”

Sgt. Debbieann Burton, who is assigned to the 95th Chemical Company, echoed the same sentiment. Burton is Jamaican.

“I’m not only doing it for myself, but for my father, who is still in Jamaica,” Burton said.

“We all just want a better life.”

More than 30 Soldiers elected to participate in the Naturalization Clinic, said Sharon Harris, chief of Fort Richardson’s Military Personnel Division. 

For those who make it through the process a postwide naturalization ceremony is tentatively scheduled for November, said Charlie Criss, chief of U.S. Army Alaska Legal Assistance Office.