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A 'Green Card Warrior' No More

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - An estimated 20,500 U.S. service members are "non-citizens," according to a March 20 article on CNN.com. They choose to serve, fight and possibly lay down their lives for a country to which they owe no allegiance.


April 17, 2008
Marine Corps News|by LCpl B.A. Curtis

Staff Sgt. Javier Castro, one of the many U.S. "green-card warriors" who has avoided applying for citizenship because of work and training commitments, overseas deployments and because of how complicated they thought it was, gained his citizenship during a ceremony in Charlotte N.C., March. 27.

Castro, originally from San Andreas Island, Columbia, immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was seven years old.

"I would say that 90% of all immigrants come to this country for a new life and change," Castro said. "America has always been the land of opportunity, which is the reason why they and I came."

At the end of high school, Castro decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps, becoming one of the thousands of immigrants who decided to serve in the U.S. military.

"When it came to that point whether to join the military or go to college, I decided I wanted to join the military," Castro explained. "Several recruiters came to the school...but the Marine recruiter was the one I always looked at. He always looked like the baddest in town."

After nine years of service in the Marine Corps, Castro, now the Current Operations Chief of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, deployed to Iraq twice and served as a Marine Corps recruiter - often considered one of the Corp's toughest jobs.

Castro was finally enlightened as to how simple it was to receive his citizenship by a fellow Marine on recruiting duty.

"I thought the process was so complicated," Castro exclaimed. "I had a buddy, a staff sergeant on recruiting duty, that I called up and one day told, 'I am getting ready to pick up staff sergeant.'"

"Administration had already told me that I should probably get my citizenship," Castro continued. "I told my buddy this and he said, 'I just got mine last year, do you know how easy it is?'"

With help from this friend Castro was able to get the number to Base Legal and begin the naturalization process.

"They made it so easy," Castro declared. "All I had to do was complete the N-400 form, which is the application for naturalization, a couple of other simple forms that verify your information and have a FBI background check."

Once the forms were filled out and the background came back clean, the application was sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where it began processing. At the end of the processing, Castro was set up with an interview with a USCIS Adjudications Officer at one of their offices in Charlotte, N.C.

According to a USCIS Adjudications Officer, the interviewing process involves a short U.S. History and English exam and screening that ensures applicants are fit to become U.S. citizens.

After Castro completed this interview and was accepted for U.S. citizenship, he and the other 27 people receiving their citizenship (14 of who were military) were officially instated as U.S. citizens at a small ceremony.

"The ceremony was amazing," Castro said. "It was kind of a touching moment for me. You don't really realize it until you are there and see all those people from so many countries who had to struggle to get their citizenship. Just to see them receive it and see how fortunate I was to be in the military and get it so quickly was very emotional for me."

This event was a pivotal moment for Castro and 14 of his fellow service members, some of who have been waiting for years to receive their citizenship. Though the U.S. Government has made it easier for service members to receive their citizenship through the Immigration and Nationality Act, thousands of our troops remain "non-citizens," an issue that was important to the CLR-2 Headquarters Company Commander, 1st Lt. Mark A. Wlaschin, who attended Castro's ceremony.

"It's hard for many Marines to balance the work and training requirements they have with finding the time to go and apply for citizenship," Wlaschin stated.

"I think that every command and every leader on every level should do all in their power to overcome every obstacle and get these Marines their citizenship," Wlaschin said. "We are very proud of Staff Sgt. Castro and his accomplishments. Not only was our country founded on immigrants but it is strengthened by people like Staff Sgt. Castro and his family and the service members who hold 'green cards.'"