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Record Number of Immigrants Becoming Citizens Through Military Service

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Aired 7/5/11

A record number of U.S. military personnel -- more than 11,000 service members -- were legal immigrants who became naturalized last year, drawn by the promise of citizenship.

— Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, around 200 immigrant service members were sworn in as citizens in San Diego, and thousands more nationwide.

Since 2001, more than 65,000 service members have become citizens, aided in part by the increase in recruiting for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ralph Fraser is a 22 year-old Navy officer from British Guiana, in South America. He joined the Navy one year after coming to the U.S. legally in 2008.

"It took me only like two months," said Fraser soon after receiving his naturalization certificate at a ceremony aboard the aircraft-carrier museum USS Midway. "They did everything; the paperwork, they set up my interview. So it's pretty great."

For many immigrants, like Gunjan Toussaint -- a native of India, the military's need has meant opportunity.

"I speak a couple of languages, so I thought I could be a good asset to the military," said Toussaint. "I have gotten all these opportunities, it's good to give back as well."

A total of 40 different countries were represented at the swearing-in ceremony aboard the Midway.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts seminars on the naturalization process at U.S. military installations abroad. It also helps with processing, so that a recruit will be a U.S. citizen by the time he or she graduates from basic training.

All service members who apply for citizenship are required to complete one year or more of service, speak English, and have no criminal record. The expedited citizenship benefit isn't available to undocumented immigrants who wish to sign up to military service, though the proposed DREAM Act hopes to change that.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS, immigrants from 22 countries represent the highest number of service members naturalized since 1955.

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