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Set things right

The president must sign an act that eases the path to citizenship for immigrants in the military.

June 25, 2008

Even while deployed in Iraq, Army Spc. Kendell K. Frederick could not escape the long reach of the immigration services' red tape. He had come to the United States from Trinidad with his family -- legally -- at age 15, joined ROTC in high school and enlisted upon graduation, eager to serve. But his willingness to risk his life for his adopted country was not enough to relieve Frederick of the burdens of its immigration system. Immigration services needed his fingerprints for his pending citizenship application. Frederick pointed out that the Army already had them, but the agency said those prints were unacceptable. Either he would have to return to the U.S. and provide another set of prints or his application would be invalidated.

So Frederick went to an outpost of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. On the way back to his base near Tikrit, a roadside bomb hit his convoy, and the 21-year-old generator mechanic was killed.

Now, 2 1/2 years after his death, Congress has passed the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act, which requires the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to accept the fingerprints of foreign servicemen and women on file with the military. It was introduced by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who had called Frederick's mother to express her condolences and listened as she unleashed her anger and frustration about her son's death. The act had overwhelming support in both houses. President Bush has until Monday to sign it and demonstrate the administration's commitment not only to righting a tragic wrong but to honoring the service of tens of thousands of immigrants on active duty.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington has made it easier for immigrants serving in the military to become citizens. They no longer have to pay an application fee, and an executive order in 2002 lifted the mandatory three-year waiting period and waived residency requirements. More than 39,000 have become naturalized citizens. Yet, even today, it takes an act of Congress to streamline citizenship for those willing to fight for this country. That is more than a travesty; it is a crime against American history. To quote Air Force Brig. Gen. Darren McDew, who last month spoke at a naturalization ceremony for 30 green-card warriors: "From the Revolution onward, our military has been comprised of men and women, many of whom were not born here, who nonetheless felt allegiance to the values of the American spirit."

Frederick had applied for citizenship three times, filling out multiple forms, each time thwarted by red tape. He became a citizen posthumously, joining more than 100 others who earned that status by dying for this country. That one-page form sailed through.

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