The (San Jose) Mercury News
Apr. 03, 2003

Non-citizen patriots deserve better


YOU don't have to be a citizen to be a patriot. Joseph Menusa, Francisco Martinez, Jose Gutierrez, Jesus Suarez del Solar and Jose Garibay died showing that.

  The five Californians, all immigrants, were among the first U.S. casualties in Iraq. Congress has decreed that they and other non-citizens pose too much of a security risk to inspect bags at airports. Yet they willingly sacrificed their lives for their new country. Immigrants have done this in every war since the Revolution.

  An estimated 37,000 non-citizens are serving in the U.S. military -- between 4 and 5 percent of enlistees. A third are from California.

  Some, like Menusa, wanted to become citizens, only to be frustrated by a three-year wait, compounded by paperwork and bureaucracy.

  Eliminating delays to citizenship is the least the government can do for those in uniform.

  A 33-year-old native of the Philippines, Menusa grew up in San Jose and made the military his career. His widow, Stacy, said her husband's application for citizenship had been in the works for seven years. After he paid his application fee, it took 18 months to get an appointment in Sacramento for an interview that he couldn't make while in recruiter school in Hawaii. Her husband discussed his desire for citizenship again not long before he shipped off to Iraq.

  "There's something wrong here,'' she said. "He died for the country he loved.''

  Only immigrants who have green cards, granting permanent residency, can enlist in the service. And without citizenship, immigrants can advance only so far. They can't become a commissioned officer or a Navy SEAL, or get high-security promotions.

  Immigrants sign up for the same reasons as other Americans: career opportunities, educational benefits, adventure, devotion to country.

  Jose Gutierrez, a 21-year-old Marine from Lomita, enlisted to earn tuition to study architecture. Francisco Martinez, 21, of Duarte, near Los Angeles, wanted to become a stock broker or detective.

  Last July, President Bush cited the war on terror when he added a big inducement to enlistment. He ordered that citizenship applications of those on active duty be pushed to the top of the pile.

  It's already had an impact; the requests for applications have quadrupled. The government also supposedly established a team to expedite the processing of applications, though that would have been news to Menusa.

  Immigrant soldiers would get one more benefit under a bill by Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas. It would waive citizenship fees and expenses that can add up to more than $1,000.

  The Marines, an organization of Philippine vets and U.S. Rep. Lois Capps are working hard to have Joseph Menusa's citizenship awarded posthumously, Stacy Menusa said. Her husband would have appreciated that honor.

  It shouldn't take death, though, to get the government's attention. Citizenship should be enjoyed by the living.

  FOLLOWUP: A fund has been established to honor Joseph Menusa, the 33-year-old graduate of Silver Creek High School in San Jose who died in combat in Iraq. Contributions can be sent to the Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa Memorial, in care of the Mid-State Bank, 1110 East Clark Ave., Santa Maria, CA 93455.