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Los Angeles Officials Urge Immediate Citizenship for Immigrants in US Military

Los Angeles city officials are urging President Bush to grant citizenship to immigrants who are serving in the U.S. military. A church official first issued the call at the funeral of an immigrant who was serving in the Marine Corps.

Los Angeles Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony made the proposal at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, one of the first U.S. casualties of the war in Iraq. A Guatemalan citizen, he died March 21 and was granted posthumous citizenship, along with another Marine who died in the same battle.

Last week, the church official sent a letter to President Bush, urging citizenship for all who are serving in the armed forces.

"That those people be granted immediate citizenship, not waiting for the sad and dreadful moment of death in the line of duty before our nation offers them that gift," he said.

Los Angeles council member Janice Hahn attended the funeral service and raised the issue at city hall.

"It was the first time I had ever attended a funeral when the entire audience erupted into applause when the cardinal mentioned his request to the president of the United States," he said.

Ms. Hahn asked the city council to back the Cardinal's request that U.S. officials grant citizenship to all immigrants in the armed forces. Wednesday, council members agreed, unanimously.

At least 30,000 foreign nationals are serving the in the U.S. military. Non-citizens must be permanent legal residents of the United States in order to join. Many, like Lance Corporal Gutierrez, are from Latin America, and many are from the Philippines. Others come Europe, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has streamlined the process of gaining citizenship for U.S. marines, soldiers and sailors. Previously, members of the military had to wait for three years after becoming legal residents before applying. That waiting period has been eliminated for those in the armed forces.

But because of a backlog, applicants typically wait eight to 10 months to have their applications processed. Cardinal Mahony and Los Angeles city officials are asking President Bush to expedite the procedure.