SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a policy that allegedly treats non-citizens in the military as “second-class recruits” and prevents them from starting basic training.
“We are very happy that the court has at least preliminarily struck down this policy and has allowed immigrants to start their military careers,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Sameer Ahmed of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar found the Trump administration failed to justify the policy, which bans non-citizen enlistees from starting basic training until after their lengthy background investigations are complete. Prior to October 2017, citizens and non-citizens could start basic training while their background checks were pending.
“If there was no evidence that [legal permanent residents] posed a greater security risk, this policy change is by definition arbitrary and capricious,” Tigar wrote in his 55-page ruling.
The Department of Defense had argued that the policy was enacted for national security reasons because non-citizens “have comparatively higher rates of foreign contacts and likelihood of foreign influence.”
Tigar found the government lacked evidence to back up its claim that legal permanent residents pose a greater security risk than regular citizens.
The injunction means enlistees like lead plaintiff Jiahao Kuang, who has lived in the U.S. since age 8 and signed up to join the Navy after high school, can start their military careers without delay.
Kuang’s attorney, Ahmed, said his client and thousands of other enlistees have been living in a state of limbo for months. Some enlistees, including Kuang, chose not to go to college because they expected to start serving right after high school, he said.
“The sooner you join the military, the sooner you can advance your military career,” Ahmed said.
The civil rights lawyer said his legal team is not aware of any non-citizen who has been allowed to start basic training since the new policy was enacted last year. A longer wait to start basic training means it will take longer to obtain the benefits of military service, including financial aid for college and an expedited path to U.S. citizenship.
Concluding that further delays would irreparably harm enlistees’ military careers and paths to citizenship, Tigar found a preliminary injunction justified. The judge also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and denied the government’s motion to dismiss.
The Justice Department and Department of Defense did not immediately return requests for comment after business hours on Friday.