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Thursday, April 10

Bill would ease foreign-born soldiers' path to citizenship

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

WASHINGTON - Thousands of foreign-born soldiers serving in the U.S. military would find fewer hurdles on the way to citizenship under a bill introduced Thursday in Congress.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, said they introduced the "Citizenship for America's Troop Act," in the House and Senate to ease the process for an estimated 37,000 soldiers who are not U.S. citizens. They expect the bill to easily pass Congress within weeks.

Their bill would exempt foreign-born soldiers from paying the $300 application fee and would let them take the required citizenship exam at U.S. embassies or military bases abroad.

"Legal immigrants now serving in our armed forces display tremendous bravery and patriotism for this country," Boxer said. "Those who wish to become U.S. citizens deserve to be naturalized without delay."

Frost said current immigration law ``erects unnecessary and unfair hurdles for these green-card troops who want to become citizens in the nation they defend.''

Under current law, all foreign-born residents must be sworn in as new citizens within the United States, forcing troops stationed overseas to travel at their own expense to complete the naturalization process.

The lawmakers said the legislation is long overdue, noting that Pentagon officials estimate 140,000 foreign-born soldiers fought in both world wars. Two soldiers recently killed in fighting in Iraq were granted citizenship posthumously.

The bill would benefit those on active duty or who had previously served in the military, said Frost.

There is no language in the legislation, however, to speed approval of citizenship applications. Lengthy delays plague the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Immigrants have reported waiting up to several years to receive the government's approval.

Under current law, foreign-born soldiers enjoy only one advantage over other foreign-born residents: They must wait only three years to apply for citizenship, while others must wait five years.

The bill also would open up promotion opportunities for thousands of enlisted soldiers, Boxer and Frost said. The military prohibits noncitizens from serving in certain high-ranking positions, including the U.S. Army Green Berets or in military intelligence units.