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Edict Urged to Open Citizenship to Navy Filipinos

January 23, 1991|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two San Diego-area congressmen will ask President Bush today to issue an executive order designating a formal period of hostilities in the Persian Gulf so Filipino sailors on active duty in the U.S. Navy can apply for citizenship.

John Palafoutas, administrative assistant to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), said Tuesday that Hunter and Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-San Diego) will forward the request to the White House in a letter.

Palafoutas said such a declaration would mean that, "under the immigration and naturalization laws, Filipino sailors who are eligible can apply for U.S. citizenship. People serving the United States during war should have the benefit of citizenship."

If Bush acts on the congressmen's request, about 4,000 Filipinos now on active duty could be eligible for naturalization, Navy officials said.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a sailor would not have to be serving in the Persian Gulf to qualify for citizenship. The only requirement would be that he is on active duty and serving honorably.

Robert Mautino, a San Diego attorney who has represented Filipino sailors in their quest for citizenship, said, "I wish (Bush) would do this. These guys are over there fighting for this country. It's the right thing to do,"

A presidential executive order would have to acknowledge that U.S armed forces are engaged in military operations in an armed conflict with a hostile force, Mautino said.

Navy spokesman Dean Wanderer, an attorney with the Navy Judge Advocate General's office in Alexandria, Va., estimated that 4,000 Filipinos would be eligible to apply for citizenship if Bush were to sign an executive order. However, Wanderer said he does not know how many Filipino sailors are serving in the Persian Gulf.

In an interview earlier in the day, before The Times learned of Hunter and Cunningham's action, Wanderer said that Navy officials were hoping that Bush would sign such an order.

"Just this morning, we were discussing in our office the need to act, to do something. We're in the process of reviewing what action has to be taken," said Wanderer.

Short of an executive order from Bush, Navy officials were also looking into the possibility of endorsing legislation that would extend permanent residency to Filipino sailors who serve honorably for six years and re-enlist for six more, Wanderer said. This would open the door for eventual naturalization, he added.

On Monday, Bush signed an executive order declaring the Arabian Peninsula, its airspace and adjacent waters as a combat zone, but it did not technically declare a period of hostilities.

The order is retroactive to Jan. 17, when the United States initiated offensive military action in the Gulf. Bush's order exempted enlisted men from paying federal income taxes on their military pay and limited the taxes paid by commissioned officers.

Now that Bush has designated the Arabian Peninsula as a combat zone, declaring a period of hostilities in the same area would be the next logical move, Mautino said.

The Filipinos' situation is unique in the U.S military. Resident aliens can obtain U.S. citizenship after serving honorably in the armed forces for a minimum of three years. However, Filipinos who enlist in the Philippines are eligible for citizenship only if they serve honorably during a declared period of hostilities.

Between 1917, when America entered World War I and continuing sporadically through Oct. 15, 1978, when Congress declared the Vietnam War officially over, about 30,000 Filipino sailors became U.S. citizens by virtue of the wars that the United States has been involved in.

Navy officials said that, since the Vietnam War ended, about 4,000 Filipino nationals have enlisted in the Navy. The Navy is the only branch of the armed forces authorized to recruit foreign nationals living in their homeland. And the only non-immigrant foreigners permitted to join the Navy are Filipino nationals.

Despite the armed conflicts in Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, the White House has yet to declare a period of hostilities. Consequently, Filipinos who enlisted after Oct. 15, 1978, are not eligible to apply for naturalization unless Bush signs the appropriate executive order, and if they are on active duty at the time.

President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order Feb. 2, 1987, extending citizenship to those aliens on active duty in the U.S. armed forces who served honorably in the Grenada campaign. Reagan designated Oct. 25 to Nov. 2, 1983, as a period of hostilities in Grenada.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Earl B. Gilliam in San Diego ruled Reagan's order illegal because it limited citizenship only to those who served in Grenada.

Gilliam ruled that the law prohibited a president from limiting the effect of such an order to servicemen who served in one geographic area. In order for Reagan's executive order to be valid, it had to apply to all servicemen serving honorably on active duty, regardless of location, during the period of hostilities, Gilliam said.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gilliam's ruling last August.

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