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Posted on Mon, May. 30, 2005

An Army camp in Iraq is named after Pfc. Rey Cuervo, who was killed on patrol in 2003. Cuervo, who was born in Mexico and grew up in South Texas, was posthumously named a U.S. citizen.
An Army camp in Iraq is named after Pfc. Rey Cuervo, who was killed on patrol in 2003. Cuervo, who was born in Mexico and grew up in South Texas, was posthumously named a U.S. citizen.
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Fallen GIs given American citizenship

By Diane Smith

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Rosalba Kuhn likes to talk about her son.

A street bears U.S. Army Pfc. Rey D. Cuervo's name in his South Texas hometown of Laguna Vista, near South Padre Island. During a speech in Fort Polk, La., last year, President Bush praised the Mexican-born soldier who died while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, in December 2003.

And someday, when Kuhn finishes reorganizing her living room, Cuervo's U.S. citizenship certificate will decorate her wall.

"It was a bonus," Kuhn said of the document that officially made Cuervo a citizen of the United States. "When he was in Iraq, he was telling his friends he wanted to be an American citizen. That way he could be in the Army longer."

Cuervo is one of 59 U.S. immigrants who have received posthumous citizenship for their service in Iraq. Four were women, including a Mexican-born soldier stationed at Fort Hood.

The list also includes Army Pfc. Ervin Dervishi, an Albanian immigrant who grew up in Fort Worth and was killed last year in Iraq. His family declined to comment.

The government bestows the benefit as a way of recognizing the sacrifice of the service members and their families.

The immigrant sailors, soldiers and Marines who have died in Iraq represent more than 20 nations. Mexicans top the list with 19, according to a report released this month by the Department of Homeland Security. Service members from the Philippines follow with six, and Nicaraguans are next with four.

When legal immigrants in the U.S. military die in the line of duty, they can gain posthumous citizenship, an honor that President Bush has touted in speeches. The tradition dates back to at least World War II, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"At the very least, this is what USCIS can do for these individuals who have fought for our freedom," said Maria Elena Garcia-Upson, spokeswoman for the agency in Dallas.

Legal permanent residents who are enlisted in the U.S. military can get citizenship after serving one year of active duty. Previously, the requirement was three years. The citizenship application fee is waived for service members.

Posthumous citizenship can be granted to those who die in combat.

Last year, a new benefit was added to this designation. The immigrant spouse, children or parents of the service member who died in combat can now file for citizenship within two years.

"It's not only a legacy, but it helps families," said Marilú Cabrera, regional communication manager for the immigration agency in Chicago.

Immigrants in every branch of the military are serving in Iraq. Foreign-born men and women represent about 5 percent of the 1.4 million on active duty, according to a study written by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank in Washington, D.C.

Luis Vazquez-Contes, a veteran and national treasurer for the American GI Forum in Denver, said the government should allow immigrant service members to become citizens when they join the military.

Then, if they die in combat, they are already Americans. After all, he said, "They are fighting for the liberty of people in the United States and this flag."

Some immigrant service members have said they are willing to fight for the United States, even though they are not citizens, because this country has offered them opportunities to better their lives, find freedom or gain economic and educational opportunities.

Kuhn said her son, who seemed to have military service in his blood, expressed similar sentiments. Cuervo talked about joining the military when he was young and had a great-grandfather who served in World War II, his mother said.

She described an athletic, good-natured youth who wanted to serve in Iraq. Growing up near the Mexico border, his American and Mexican experience merged and ran deep. He was 24 when he died.

In a recent telephone interview, Kuhn was nostalgic: "He would say, 'I always remember that I'm a Mexican, and I'm lucky to be living in the United States.' "


Immigrants in the line of duty

• Since President Bush signed the Expedited Naturalization Executive Order in July 2002, about 16,000 service members have been naturalized, meaning they've been granted U.S. citizenship.

• More than 2,000 service members have become U.S. citizens so far in fiscal year 2005.

• More than 40,000 service members are eligible to apply for naturalization.

• The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 helped hasten military naturalizations. Service members who die in combat can receive posthumous citizenship through an expedited process. Surviving immigrant spouses, children or parents can file for citizenship within two years.

SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Diane Smith, (817) 685-3801