Saturday, October 28, 2017
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) ruled this week that the Defense Department's enhanced vetting policies for noncitizen-soldiers who seek to apply for expedited citizenship under federal law likely violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The court also provisionally certified a class in the case, and certified a class in a related case challenging a different aspect of the same problem.
The rulings are significant, even if preliminary, wins for the two groups of noncitizens soldiers in their efforts to apply for citizenship by virtue of their military service. The rulings are also a significant setback for the DOD's efforts to ramp-up security screenings for noncitizen soldiers before they can apply for citizenship, and yet another setback for the administration in its immigration policies.
One ruling, Kirwa v. DOD, says that the DOD's failure to issue a certain form, the N-426, to noncitizen reservists who applied for service before October 13, 2017, and who were (and are) awaiting assignment to basic training likely violates the APA. (The N-426 is a form that simply certifies a noncitizen-soldier's military service. It's a requirement for a noncitzien reservists and active-duty soldiers to apply for an expedited path to citizenship under federal law.) That same ruling also provisionally certifies a class; a related ruling, Nio v. DOD, later this week certified a class in a different case (more below).
Kirwa arose when DOD changed course in the spring of 2017 and began to decline requests for a certain form, the N-426, which simply certifies a noncitizen soldier's military service as a prerequisite to his or her citizenship application, to noncitizen reservists who were awaiting assignment to basic training. (DOD previously issued the N-426 to noncitizen reservists during this period, although an earlier policy change, in September 2016, led to some earlier delays in issuing the form.) Plaintiffs sued to get the DOD to issue the forms, but DOD then issued new policy guidance on October 13, 2017. The new guidance imposed additional security-vetting requirements before the DOD would issue the N-426 to noncitizen-reservists, further delaying the plaintiffs' ability to apply for citizenship (and subjecting them to deportation proceedings in the meantime). The plaintiffs amended their complaint and motion for class certification based on the new guidance.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their Administrative Procedure Act claim, because the "DOD offered no reasoned explanation for this change, thereby suggesting that DOD's decision was an arbitrary and capricious one." (The court ruled that it could hear the case under the APA, despite the government's claim that the APA didn't reach this kind of decisionmaking and despite the government's claim that the case touched on national security.) Moreover, the court said that the October 13 guidance changed the ground-rules for the plaintiffs, who enlisted based on very different policies and processes for noncitizen-reservists to apply for expedited citizenship. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and provisionally certified a class (noting that it included about 2,000 individuals).
In Nio, the court certified a class of noncitizen-soldiers who had a completed N-426 form and applied for expedited citizenship with DHS, but were held up because of DOD's enhanced vetting processes. (The court noted that there are about 400 to 500 members of the class.)