Staff Judge Advocates help families, Airmen become citizens

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA --

The American dream used to be white picket fences and a house in the suburbs. The dream has now shifted for many Americans and Airmen to the idea of everyone having equal opportunities for success through hard work and determination.

The 628th Air Base Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate helps members of Team Charleston achieve that dream by starting the naturalization process with service members who are not U.S. citizens. 

Since the Joint Base Charleston Immigration Clinic opened in 2008, more than 300 service members and their families have received their citizenship.

“Most people presume all service members are U.S. citizens, but that’s not always the case,” said Brad Stanley, 628th ABW JA Civil Law division chief. “To be a service member, they have to be a lawful, permanent resident and have legal status. Becoming a citizen through the military is really pretty easy, just fill out some forms, prepare for the civics exam and good character interview. After those are done, it’s time to be sworn in.”

Team Charleston currently has 18 members who are legal residents but do not have citizenship. Many service members start the process during basic military training or technical training but are not able to finish until they are at their first base. Service members can become citizens in a year of service during peacetime and after one day of service during a time of war.

“Those collective few [noncitizens] are willing to give everything, the ultimate sacrifice, and they don’t have the same rights as we do,” said Stanley. “I feel compelled to help them.”

Additionally, the 628th ABW JA helps family members of citizen service members obtain their citizenship. Airman 1st Class Daniel Dankwa, 628th Civil Engineer Squadron engineer assistant, came to the United States in 2012 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa "Lottery" Program. He later gained citizenship upon joining the Air Force in 2016. 

The Department of State administers a congressional mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or Green Card "Lottery." Under this program, a limited amount of diversity visas are made available each fiscal year to individuals who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Individuals are selected via a computer-generated, random lottery drawing.

“Revoking my citizenship to Ghana and leaving my family behind was the only pain I had to deal with,” said Dankwa.

Dankwa is currently helping his parents go through the process to obtain their citizenship. He also encourages others going through the process to be truthful on the forms or their application for citizenship could be denied.

“I decided to become a U.S. citizen to fully benefit from the rights and privileges the country offers,” said Dankwa. “I joined the Air Force to give back to the country that gave me the opportunity to excel and also enjoy the educational and health benefits.”