Honoring the Contributions of New American Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Families

America has long stood as a beacon of hope and opportunity, and few embody that spirit here at home and abroad more than the members of our Armed Forces and our veterans. Throughout his Administration, President Obama has sought to honor the brave men and women who have served this country. This includes foreign-born residents and naturalized citizens who are service members and veterans.  

Just last month, on Veterans Day, the President spoke of the critical role of our service member institutions:

“It’s the example of the single-most diverse institution in our country – soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coastguardsmen who represent every corner of our country, every shade of humanity, immigrant and native-born, Christian, Muslim, Jew, and nonbeliever alike, all forged into common service.”

 

That is why today, the President established a new federal Interagency Working Group charged with enhancing access to services and benefits for new American service members, veterans, and their families. 

President Barack Obama returns the salute from Tommie Okabayashi, one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans

President Barack Obama returns the salute from Tommie Okabayashi, one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans during a meeting in the Oval Office to congratulate them on their Congressional Gold Medal, Feb. 18, 2014.

Like other immigrants and refugees, these new Americans are a source of our nation’s strength and exemplify their commitment to the past, present, and future of our country. These brave new Americans have taken the extraordinary step of answer the call of duty to support and defend our country—some even before becoming American citizens. Like other immigrants and refugees, these new Americans are a source of our nation’s strength and exemplify their commitment to the past, present, and future of our country.

Over the past decade, the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security have strengthened partnerships to provide services and opportunities to service members, veterans, and their families interacting with the U.S. immigration system. Indeed, since 2001, more than 110,000 service members have been naturalized and many were assisted in the process through partnerships such as the “Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative,” which gives non-citizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize during basic training. Despite these efforts, service members, veterans, and their families too often still face barriers to accessing immigration benefits and other assistance for which they may be eligible.  

President Barack Obama listens as Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security administers the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony

President Barack Obama listens as Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security administers the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Over the past 8 years, President Obama has spoken at several naturalization ceremonies for service members and their families, including two ceremonies held at the White House on the Fourth of July.  These ceremonies have provided the President with the opportunity to be among the first to welcome these newest Americans, each with their own path.  

“Some of you came here as children, brought by parents who dreamed of giving you the opportunities that they had never had. Others of you came as adults, finding your way through a new country and a new culture and a new language. All of you did something profound: You chose to serve. You put on the uniform of a country that was not yet fully your own. In a time of war, some of you deployed into harm’s way. You displayed the values that we celebrate every Fourth of July — duty, responsibility, and patriotism.”

 

It is our hope that through this Presidential Memorandum and the new Interagency Working Group it establishes, new American service members, veterans and their families will be better able to receive the services and benefits to which they are entitled and be able to live their lives to the fullest—just as they deserve. 

Read the Presidential Memorandum here.