- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

3:22 p.m.

President Bush presided over a citizenship ceremony today for three soldiers injured in Iraq, calling them “men who knew the cost of freedom and were willing to pay that cost so others could live free.”

Mr. Bush also used his visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to promote his stalled proposal for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws. He urged Congress to break the current stalemate and pass legislation that “must be comprehensive.”

The three injured soldiers who took the oath and became citizens were Spc. Noe Santos-Dilone of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Spc. Sergio Lopez of Bolingbrook, Ill.; and Pfc. Eduardo Leal-Cardenas of Los Angeles. Spc. Santos-Dilone was a citizen of the Dominican Republic, and the other two were citizens of Mexico.

Spc. Santos-Dilone, who stood on crutches while the other two stood on their own at the ceremony, was injured Sept. 6 when the convoy in which he was riding was bombed. Spc. Lopez was injured when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad Jan. 6. Pfc. Leal-Cardenas was injured by a roadside bomb Dec. 6 while returning to his base from a mission just south of Baghdad.

Mr. Bush called it “a joyful day for these men, a joyful day for me to be here with them … It’s a privilege to be their commander in chief.”

“This isn’t going to be the first time these men have made such a promise. They took a similar oath when they became soldiers of the United States Army. And their presence here bears witness that they kept their word so that others might be free,” Mr. Bush said.

“As our nation debates the future of our immigration policies, we must remember the contribution of these good men and all who dream of contributing to this country’s future.”

After the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush signed an executive order making foreign-born members of the U.S. military eligible immediately for U.S. citizenship when they serve on active duty.

“It made sense to me: If somebody’s willing to risk their lives for our country, they ought to be full participants in our country,” Mr. Bush said. He noted that more than 33,000 non-U.S. citizens currently serve in the military.

Trying to break the deadlock on immigration legislation, Mr. Bush said securing the nation’s borders must be the first goal. After that, he said, the country must offer a temporary worker program and tougher penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers and resolve the status of the millions of illegal workers in the country while honoring “the great American tradition of the melting pot.”

The Senate earlier in the year passed a bipartisan immigration bill offering a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal aliens and generally delivering on the goals outlined by Mr. Bush.

The House, which in 2005 passed a far more restrictive bill that would make it a felony to enter the United States illegally, is holding a series of hearings on the subject. The hearings that have been criticized as a political maneuver to delay the legislation and help Republican candidates in an election year.

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