- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation yesterday to speed up citizenship for U.S. military members on active duty, after rebuking attempts to broaden the bill to reservists and to relax immigration laws for immediate relatives of holders of green cards who have died in combat.With 37,000 legal permanent residents serving in the military, and 10 of them having died in the conflict in Iraq, members of both parties and on all sides of the immigration debate have supported easing their path to citizenship.Yesterday’s bill, sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and the committee’s chairman, was a compromise version of about a half-dozen bills.”We have a bill that should easily pass the House with support from members with widely varying views on immigration, who all want to honor the service to our country of permanent residents in the armed forces,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.The bill reduces from three years to one year the amount of service required in the armed forces before one can apply for citizenship under existing rules. Some had wanted a two-year wait, while others had wanted no time, so Mr. Sensenbrenner settled on one year.The legislation waives the federal fees and allows for military applications to be filed overseas rather than in the United States, which the current law requires. It also allows green card holders who die in action to be granted posthumous citizenship, and allows their immediate families all the benefits that would have been available had the service member been alive and obtained citizenship.The compromise passed by voice vote — but only after Republicans defeated an amendment that would have loosened immigration laws for illegal-alien relatives of military green card holders killed in action.Under the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, spouses, parents and children who are here illegally could ask the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver to remain in the United States while they apply for their green cards. Under current law if they are currently illegally in the United States they have to return to their home country and wait up to 10 years before applying for a green card.Republicans opposed the amendment, arguing it sounded too much like another mini-amnesty program pushed in the past by advocates of broader immigration.That provision, known as 245(i) by the immigration code section it refers to, stalled last year in Congress.”I think the real purpose of this amendment is to circumvent 245(i),” said Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican.But Mr. Berman said since the bill only applies to immediate family members of legal permanent residents killed in action, of which there were only 10 in Iraq, the universe of persons the measure applies to is very small. He also said it doesn’t require the waiver, but lets the Department of Homeland Security issue one after an investigation of the applicant. Still, the amendment failed by voice vote. Republicans also rejected an amendment to extend the citizenship provisions to some members of the reserves. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat and the amendment’s sponsor, said the 218,284 reservists who have been called to active duty during the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve the benefits.But Republicans argued broadening the bill that much would upset the compromise bill.A bill to grant posthumous citizenship has already passed the Senate, and there are several bills pending to speed up citizenship for green card holders.

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