Marine's Rites Become a Forum for Citizenship
Status should be given to all foreign-born in uniform, Cardinal Mahony says.
By Daniel Hernandez and Robert J. Lopez
Times Staff Writers
Mourners paid their final respects Monday to Marine Lance Cpl. Jose
A. Gutierrez, who was remembered as an immigrant willing to brave
hardship and danger to make the ultimate sacrifice for a country that was not entirely his own.
Gutierrez, 28, was among the first U.S. soldiers killed last month while battling Republican Guard forces in southern Iraq.
An overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people flocked to the funeral Mass
at St. Margaret Mary Church in Lomita, with Cardinal Roger M.
Those attending the service ranged from small children with their parents
to police and firefighters in their dress uniforms, to aging World War
veterans with medals pinned to their shirts. They all stood silently as the national anthems of the United States and Guatemala played and a
military color guard carried in the casket, draped in a U.S. flag.
Orphaned as a child in Guatemala, Gutierrez was a legal resident but
not a U.S. citizen when he was killed March 21 near the port town of
Umm al Qasr. As an honorary gesture, the United States government last week awarded Gutierrez posthumous citizenship.
But in a homily delivered in Spanish and English, Mahony told the audience
that the citizenship gesture was inadequate, saying all foreign-born
soldiers should be naturalized immediately.
"They should not have to wait until they are dead and brought home in
a casket to be awarded citizenship," Mahony said, prompting a hearty
round of applause from the crowd.
The cardinal said he had faxed a letter to President Bush on Monday,
urging him to naturalize the many immigrant soldiers who are fighting on
behalf of the United States.
"They come with a generosity of heart," Mahony said, "to make our country better."
Gutierrez was one of more than 37,000 noncitizens who serve in the military.
Of the first 10 Californians killed in the war, he and four others were
born in other
Gutierrez's only surviving family member, his sister, Engracia Cirin,
flew to Los Angeles to attend the Mass. She said in an interview after
the service that she was
grateful for the outpouring of support.
"He always sent word to tell me that he was doing well," she said. "And with everything I saw while I was here, I've confirmed that."
After leaving his sister in Guatemala, Gutierrez hopped trains across Mexico before entering the United States illegally in early 1997.
Although records show that he was 22 at the time, Gutierrez told authorities
that he was 16. His age and orphan status were key factors that allowed
him to win legal
residency and be placed in the Los Angeles County foster system, records show.
In five years, Gutierrez lived with four foster families from Pacoima
to Lomita. His final family, the Mosqueras of Lomita, helped organize the
service, which was
attended by two other former foster mothers.
"He fought and died for what he believed in: freedom," his foster mother, Nora Mosquera, told reporters after the Mass.
Vicenta Castellon, Gutierrez's first foster mother, said after the service that the young man had a soft, affable demeanor.
"You could talk about anything with him, anything," Castellon said through sobs. "He was a sweetheart."