Forty-four-year-old Ramdeo Chankar Singh was honorably discharged from the Army nine years ago. He believes he is fully qualified to become a U.S. citizen, and has been trying to become one for almost a decade. But immigration officials are telling him he doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements.
Not only that, Singh, married to a Trinidadian native like himself, and with two U.S.-born children ages 10 and 5, is now facing deportation.
“I’ve been paying my taxes for years, have never got into trouble with the law and served in the military for nine years. I don’t need to buy my citizenship; I believe I have earned it.”
What is making him more confused and frustrated is that after passing his naturalization test back in September 2004, he was initially told by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that his citizenship application “has been recommended for approval.”
DOJ informed him, “At this time it appears you have established your eligibility for naturalization. If final approval is granted, you will be notified when and where to report for the Oath Ceremony.”
That notification never came, and on Dec. 1, 2004, Singh was told that his petition was denied because he did not “meet the requirements” of the provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, under which he had filed.
Since then, Singh and his wife, Savitri, have spent countless hours researching U.S. immigration laws and presidential executive orders relating to citizenship eligibility for immigrants who served in the military around the time Singh did.
So far Singh has spent nearly $60,000 in lawyers’ fees in his citizenship fight. He has written pleas for help to lawmakers, especially congressional representatives from New York, such as Rep. Gregory Meeks and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, who is now Secretary of State.
Singh said some responded, saying they would contact immigration officials, but nothing has come of those promises to date.
His case reflects the complex relationship between the federal government and immigrants in the armed forces. Undocumented immigrants aren’t allowed to join, but if they find a way to get in, immigration laws sometimes provide them a path to citizenship.
Singh knows that the one crucial thing he needs for securing U.S. citizenship is a green card, or permanent residency. But he is convinced that his years of service in the military overrides that requirement–a conviction reinforced by Edward M. Daniels II, a New York-based Veterans Affairs advocate, who has joined forces with Singh in his fight for U.S. citizenship.
“The Immigration and Nationality Act [INA] is all that’s needed to prove that he is entitled to becoming a citizen,” Daniels asserted.
In 1981, at age 15, Singh came to the United States from his native Trinidad via Canada without legal documents. He soon began earning a living.
Ten years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, soon after obtaining a work permit through a class action lawsuit filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) on behalf of immigrants of any nationality, who were wrongfully told they were ineligible for amnesty under a special federal program. At the time of getting the work permit, Singh said he was led to believe that it would automatically lead to permanent residency.
But as it turned out, “the LULAC lawsuit kept dragging on and on, ” said Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Eventually, some who had applied for amnesty got it. But not Singh.