Explaining Military Naturalization Policy through Institutional Change

Alfredo Gonzalez, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Why did naturalizing based on military service change from an immediate and guaranteed process during WWI, to an expedited and uncertain procedure afterwards? Scholars and the media have recently observed a growing phenomenon in the U.S. that is antithetical to the fundamental principle of American patriotism, deporting non-citizen military veterans. However, the current wave of removals of some non-citizen service members and veterans coherently follows from the institutional development of the immigration system, whose role of enticing foreigners to fight American wars was historically in tension with U.S. anxieties about non-white migrants’ access to citizenship. While military naturalizations have become harder to obtain, the formal rules and procedures that characterize military naturalization policy have remained relatively intact since 1952. The drastic narrowing of these benefits happened between WWI and the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, when bureaucrats from administrative agencies gradually but significantly altered policy through layering and conversion of rules. Rather than a critical juncture, the path-dependent citizenship-for-service (which converted military service directly into citizenship for non-nationals) was upset by the gradual insertion of bureaucrats’ preferences, leading to the new principle of “service-for-citizenship,” where sacrifice in the military became a necessary but not sufficient condition for naturalization, which now required action within limited time frames and strict moral character requirements.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 81. Exclusion and Inclusion