Posthumous Citizenships on Fast Track, Include Family Benefits
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 5, 2004 The U.S. government historically has granted posthumous citizenship to non-U.S. citizen service members killed in the line of duty during wartime.
Thanks to a close working relationship between the Defense Department and the new Department of Homeland Security, this process is now on the fast track with a goal of presenting an official certificate granting that citizenship at the service member's funeral.
And with new provisions in the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act, the citizenship is no longer simply honorary. It now includes tangible benefits to the deceased service member's spouse, children and parents who hope to gain U.S. citizenship.
Dan Ruiz from the Army's Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center said the new law doesn't affect the procedures for granting posthumous citizenships for service members first put in place during World War I. Posthumous citizenship is granted at the request of the immediate family.
Currently the deadline for applications for posthumous citizenships is Nov. 2, but officials said they expect it to be extended.
This year's DoD authorization act waives the $80 application fee families previously had to pay. And for the first time, immediate family members who do not have permanent U.S. resident status may now get it based on the deceased service member's newly granted citizenship.
So far, six soldiers, 10 Marines and one sailor killed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom received posthumous citizenships, according to Rick Torres, a posthumous citizenship officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' California Service Center. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
A posthumous citizenship application is also being processed for another soldier, Torres said.
Among those granted posthumous citizenships was U.S. Army Pvt. Rey David Cuervo, a 24-year-old scout with the 1st Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, killed in Baghdad Dec. 28 when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle.
A native of Tampico, Mexico, Cuervo had lived in Texas since he was 6 years old. Friends said he had planned to attain U.S. citizenship after returning from Iraq.
President Bush specifically named Cuervo and other non-U.S. citizens killed during the war on terror while visiting U.S. troops and their families at Fort Polk, La., Feb. 17. "At my direction, each of them has been posthumously granted a title to what they have brought a great honor: citizen of the United States," Bush told the group.
Another recipient of a posthumous citizenship was Marine Staff Sgt. Riayan Tejeda, a native of the Dominican Republic who was shot and killed during a firefight northeast of Baghdad April 11, 2003.
Tejeda, 26, who was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, had immigrated as a child to the United States and had grown up in New York City. During a recent ceremony, the southwest corner of 180th Street in his hometown neighborhood was named "Staff Sgt. Riayan Agusto Tejeda Street" in his memory.
Torres, who retired from the Navy before joining the Citizen and Immigration Services, said he feels honored to play a role in helping the families of those who have died for the United States.
"I deeply believe that their valor and patriotism toward this nation cannot be expressed in mere words," he said. "I see each posthumous citizenship request as another fallen comrade who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and left families behind that will grieve through this process."
Torres said he considers his role in the process a personal calling, to provide "the utmost honorable and compassionate sentiment" as he helps a fallen comrade's family members during the citizenship process. He said the support he supplies is "not only on behalf of the other men and women at the California Service Center dedicated to this process, but also on behalf of all service veterans."
Leslie Lord, the Army's liaison to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said posthumous citizenships for service members killed while serving the United States and the extension of those benefits to the families left behind demonstrates the depth of the country's appreciation for their sacrifices.
"These people have proven that they are willing to die for the United States," he said. "They've made the ultimate sacrifice, so it's only right that the county grant them the citizenships they have earned and make sure that their families receive benefits as well."