Rewarding patriotism: Remove the red tape that ensnares members of the military seeking U.S. citizenship

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:

Army Spec. Kendell K. Frederick was killed in late 2005 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Spec. Frederick, who was born in Trinidad and lived in Maryland, legally came to the United States with his family when he was 15. He was on his way to provide fingerprints for his long-pending citizenship application when he lost his life. Spec. Frederick, 21, was granted U.S. citizenship a week after his death.

Non-U.S. citizens make up a sizable portion of the modern U.S. armed forces. According to data from the Defense Department, nearly 35,000 non-U.S. citizens have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq in U.S. uniforms; 144 lost their lives there. Some 20,000 men and women born on foreign soil are on active duty in U.S. military branches, and another 13,000 are enrolled in the reserves. Roughly 7,000 non-U.S. citizens who serve in the armed forces are waiting for their citizenship papers to come through.

Since shortly after Spec. Frederick's death. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has been working to ensure that the bureaucratic tangles that ensnared his application do not delay the citizenship process for the thousands of other non-U.S. citizens who risk their lives as members of the U.S. armed forces. She was instrumental in establishing a dedicated telephone line for queries from service members at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,the arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that processes citizenship applications.

Ms. Mikulski also introduced the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md. The bill allows the DHS to use fingerprints taken by the Defense Department of every new service member in the citizenship process; previously, service members were not allowed to use their military fingerprints for that purpose. Ms. Mikulski's bill, among other things, also requires that the necessary background check for citizenship be completed within 180 days after an application is filed by a service member. An application must be filed within two years after a non-U.S. citizen enters military service.

The House passed the Citizenship Assistance Act last fall, and it sailed through the Senate in March; the bill is now tied up in conference. Lawmakers should quickly sign off on the bill and send it along to President Bush, who should sign it. It would be a fitting tribute to Kendell Frederick and a well-deserved reward to the thousands of others like him who don the uniform of their adopted country.


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