Latina Soldier Sues US Government for Delaying Her Citizenship Application


Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or

A Latina soldier in the United States Army Reserve sued the US Government for indefinitely delaying her citizenship application which has been pending adjudication for almost a year.

Ellen Da Silva filed the complaint and petition for mandamus against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The complaint-petition, filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, charges USCIS with violating legal requirements that a decision on an application for citizenship must be made within 120 days of the naturalization exam. DaSilva passed her naturalization exam on April 25, 2017 and USCIS immediately scheduled her oath soon after, only to subsequently notify Da Silva that her ceremony was being cancelled the day prior to the event.

The lawsuit demands USCIS’ prompt processing of her application to become a naturalized United States citizen as provided for under the law, or in the alternative, that the District Court hold a hearing to review Da Silva’s naturalization case and make a decision on her case.

Da Silva is being represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“I will never accept defeat, I will never quit,” she said. “Those two phrases from the soldier’s creed have been my inspiration through my journey since I enlisted in the Army. I’m extremely proud to wear the uniform, and defend this country that I love so much.”

The complaint charges that the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS have stopped processing naturalization applications based upon unlawful directives issued by the Department of Defense in 2017. The department’s order requesting additional security vetting of soldiers has no basis under existing naturalization law, according to Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney of LatinoJustice’s Southeast Regional Office in Orlando, Florida.

Da Silva had filed for naturalization under the Military Accessions to the Vital National Interest, or MAVNI program which was designed to recruit noncitizens with specialized medical training or critical language skills. The program which was implemented in 2009 offered recruits a fast track to citizenship in exchange for their military service and has been used as a successful recruitment program by the military since then.

“It is exceptionally cruel for the Department of Defense to improperly direct USCIS to stop a program of their own design and treat soldiers unlawfully,” Romero-Craft said. “These soldiers are committed to serving our nation and represent the very best of what it means to be an American. Immigrants are the bedrock of our nation and those who choose to serve in the military should be treated with dignity, respect and honor. It is unconscionable to hold these soldiers in a perpetual state of fear based on the potential loss of their immigration status.”

Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel blasted the administration’s handling of immigrants, especially those who serve in the military.

“Although the USCIS has changed their mission statement to no longer include the phrase “nation of immigrants” this change will never erase our history or the fact that our country is a country built by immigrants,” he said. “Our organization is dedicated to protecting the rights of our most vulnerable community members. Tragically this vulnerable community now includes soldiers who are faithfully following their oath to serve in our nation’s military.”

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