Tue Apr 8, 2003

LA Cardinal Urges Citizenship for Immigrant Troops

               LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese has urged President Bush (news -
               web sites) to grant citizenship to immigrant soldiers fighting in Iraq (news - web sites), saying that it is not right to wait until
               someone dies in battle to give them a citizen's rights.

               Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony made the proposal in a letter sent on Tuesday to the White House, one day after he
               officiated at a funeral mass for of Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, a Guatemalan immigrant and one of the first combat casualties of the
               U.S.-led war in Iraq.

               Gutierrez, 28, who died just hours after U.S. ground troops moved into southern Iraq on March 21, was granted posthumous
               citizenship along with two other soldiers who died in battle.

               In a letter faxed to the White House, the cardinal asked Bush to grant U.S. citizenship to non-native members of the U.S. Armed
               Services upon their honorable discharge -- rather than wait several years after they applied.

               "There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield to earn citizenship," Mahony wrote.
               "It seems to me and to many others that the very least we can do to assist our immigrant men and women serving the best interest of
               this great nation is to grant them citizenship without bureaucratic obstacles and delays.

               White House officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

               Immigrants must live in the United States for at least five years before they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, a spokesman
               for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services said. The ensuing qualification process can take years to complete.

               In a 2002 executive order, Bush agreed to expedite the naturalization process for non-citizen soldiers who serve "during ... the war
               against terrorists of global reach."

               About 37,000 non-citizens, who hold permanent residency papers popularly known as "green cards," now serve in the U.S.