- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

The House and Senate, citing the efforts of legal immigrants serving in the military in Iraq, each passed measures yesterday to make it faster and easier for those people to obtain citizenship.

With more than 37,000 legal immigrants serving in the military, the measures’ backers said it was time to recognize that if they are willing to fight and die in war, they should get special attention in their applications for citizenship.

“There is no better way to honor the heroism and sacrifice of those who serve than to offer them the American citizenship they deserve,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Democrats said they hope to use this bill to build support for passing other, broader legalization measures.

“I’m hoping we can build on this to make people be unafraid of allowing people to access legalization,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, the top Democrat on the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Republicans and Democrats came together on immigration. We haven’t been able to do that since 9/11,” she said.

Under current law, those serving in peacetime are eligible for citizenship after three years, and if they are serving overseas they must travel to the United States for the application process. The measures would make applications and interviews available overseas and would waive the associated fees.

The House bill reduces the time immigrants have to serve from three years to one year, while the Senate’s version — which was adopted as an amendment to the defense authorization bill — sets a two-year standard.

Immigrants serving during war already are eligible for citizenship, and those killed since September 11 have been granted posthumous citizenship by President Bush.

But both the House and Senate bills would allow spouses, children and parents of those granted posthumous citizenship to continue their applications for green cards or citizenship as if the dead service member were still alive and now a citizen.

“Deportation is never fair pay for the death of a family member,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chief sponsor of the Senate amendment.

So far, 10 of the U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq have been noncitizen immigrants. The bill includes them and any others killed in action since the September 11 attacks.

In the House, the bill passed 414-5, with all five “no” votes coming from Republicans.

“It seems to me that if people have to wait five years to become citizens — just because you’re in the armed services doesn’t give you the right to be a citizen,” said Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, who was one of the five votes against the bill and who served 29 years in the Air Force.

Mr. Johnson said three years was fine with him, but one year isn’t long enough.

In the Senate, the amendment passed by voice vote.

Now, the two measures must be squared with each other. In addition to the different service length requirements, the Senate bill also applies to 12,000 members of the Select Reserve, elements of the military’s Ready Reserve that lawmakers said are likeliest to be called for duty.

House Democrats said they still want to see some changes to their bill in conference.

Right now, the House bill excludes parents who are out of the country at the time of the immigrant soldier’s death from applying for citizenship benefits as if the soldier were still alive, and Democrats said they want to see that changed.

They also oppose a provision that they said would automatically revoke citizenship of someone who has earned citizenship but is then dishonorably discharged from the military.

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