November 26, 2003

Commentary:

Extending immigration benefits to American soldiers without citizenship

By Hon. Robert Menendez
and Hon. James E. Clyburn

Throughout American history, non-citizens have fought and died for this country. Long-standing Democratic efforts to provide citizenship and family protections to immigrant soldiers have finally come to fruition. Language in the recently passed Department of Defense Authorization Conference Report (H.R. 1588) extends immigration benefits specifically targeted to those who have served in the United States military. At long last, those who have defended this great country without being able to call it home now have a process specifically designed for them so that they can enjoy the freedoms they fought to defend.

There has been a long tradition of immigrant soldiers defending America. According to the Department of Defense, there are currently 37,000 legal permanent residents serving in the military. There are an additional 13,000 serving in the reserves. 3,000 legal permanent residents have served in Iraq, with at least 14 making the ultimate sacrifice.  

By creating a clear path to citizenship, America is finally showing these brave men and women the gratitude they deserve. 

Analuara Espinoza was just such an American soldier without citizenship. Three weeks ago, he died serving a country that didn’t call him a citizen. This bill will ensure that Analuara and his non-citizen comrades will be able to call this grateful nation their own.

Specifically, this legislation will:

 Allow lawful permanent residents to naturalize after serving one year in the military during peacetime;

 Allow naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies to be performed abroad at U.S. embassies, consulates, and overseas military installations;

 Waive all naturalization fees

 Grant lawful permanent residents who are members of the selected reserves of the ready reserves to expedite their naturalization in times of war or hostile military operations;

 Allow non-citizen spouses, unmarried children, and parents of citizens and non-citizens serving in the U.S. military who are killed as a result of such service to file or preserve their application for lawful permanent residence;

 Permit the discretionary revocation of citizenship for separation from military services under other than honorable conditions within the first five years of military service during both peacetime and wartime;

 Secretary of Defense to prescribe a policy that facilitates the opportunity for a service member to finalize naturalization, including a high priority for grant of emergency leave and high priority for transportation on aircraft chartered by the Armed Forces;

 Expediting the process for granting posthumous citizenship

The majority of these provisions come from the Naturalization and Family Protection for Military Members Act of 2003 (H.R. 1814), a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Hilda Solis. 

This bill is a method of showing our gratitude to those American soldiers without citizenship.  Those who truly defend our country and everything we stand for are as American as apple pie. This bill simply corrects the glitch in our laws that say they aren’t.  

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