View Full Version : Amendment focuses on foreign-born service members

04-01-06, 07:44 AM
March 31, 2006
Amendment focuses on foreign-born service members

By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

The U.S. military will play a big role in next week’s Senate debate over immigration policy, and it won’t just be the usual talk about whether troops should be sent to guard the border against entry by illegal aliens.

A bipartisan amendment unveiled Thursday would relax citizenship procedures for U.S. service members and would order the Pentagon to provide more help to foreign-born service members who want to become citizens.

The Pentagon would have to provide written instructions to every noncitizen enlisting in the military about the naturalization process, and a new position, citizenship advocate, would be created at military entry processing centers.

The Pentagon also would be required to establish a toll-free hotline to help service members and their families with questions about naturalization, with trained employees answering the phones.

Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., are cosponsors of the amendment, which is expected to be considered next week as the Senate continues work on the Securing America’s Borders Act, S 2454.

Specter is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the immigration bill originated, and Leahy is the committee’s ranking Democrat, which means their amendment is likely to get more attention than amendments offered by other senators.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also has talked about the military during debate on the border bill. In his case, McCain wants to ensure the immigration laws take into account the value of people who come to America to build a future.

An example, he said, is Riayen Tejeda, a Marine staff sergeant killed in an ambush in Baghdad in 2003. Tejeda came to the U.S. “with two dreams, he said — to become an American citizen and to serve in the United States Marine Corps,” said McCain, a former Navy pilot.

“He had never fulfilled his first dream to become a naturalized American citizen. But he loved this country so much that he gave his life to defend her,” McCain said. “He willingly accepted the obligations of American citizenship before he possessed all the rights of an American.”

“Right now, at this very moment, there are fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers who are not yet American citizens but who have dreamed that dream, and have risked their lives to defend it,” McCain said. “They should make us proud, not selfish, to be Americans. They came to grasp the lowest rung of the ladder, and they intend to rise. Let them rise.”

Tejeda did become a citizen posthumously in a ceremony at his family’s home in New York.