FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- This week President Barack Obama welcomed several active duty service members as new citizens. The United States government has naturalized more than 83,000 members of the military since it expedited the process 10 years ago.
Since the Revolutionary War certain non-citizens have been eligible to enlist in the U.S. military. In the 1840s about half of those who enlisted in the Army were immigrants. Today, with few exceptions, you have to be a national or have a green card. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks then-President George W. Bush gave immigrants an incentive to sign up with Uncle Sam — streamlined citizenship. There are currently 35,000 non-citizens out of 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. military.
Obama spoke to some of them at a naturalization ceremony at the White House.
"Every member of the military with us have shown incredible patriotism; a willingness to risk their lives in defense of a nation that was not yet their own," Obama said. "And that’s a remarkable act."
The president didn’t miss an opportunity to talk about immigration reform.
"Everyone pretty much knows what’s broken," he said. "Everybody knows how to fix it. We've all proposed solutions and we've got a lot of white papers and studies. And we've just got, at this point, to work up the political courage to do what's required to be done."
The president said there are bipartisan groups in both the House and the Senate currently working on reform measures. He told the group he expects the debate to begin next month.
Non-citizens who join a branch of the military are exempt from residency requirements. Spouses of those deployed may also be eligible, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Spokesman Daniel Cosgrove said he’s attended several naturalization ceremonies.
"The look on their faces is just pure pride," Cosgrove said. "This is more about an immigration benefit to these individuals, the way they carry themselves, the way they wear that uniform. For me it’s one of the best parts of my job."