WASHINGTON – Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, announced legislation Tuesday to make it easier for foreign-born U.S. service members to become U.S. citizens.
The proposal comes after the Oct. 19 death of Army Sgt. Kendell Frederick, 21, of Randallstown, Md., who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb while he was en route to a military base to get his fingerprints taken for his citizenship application.
“Every military death in Iraq is a tragedy, but this one did not need to happen,” said Mikulski in a prepared statement for a news conference held at the Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Randallstown, Md. “If you are willing to fight and die for America, you should be able to become an American.”
Born in Trinidad, Frederick moved to the United States at 15 and quickly fell in love with the country. He completed four years at Randallstown High School’s Naval Junior ROTC program and enlisted in the Army Reserve, his mother, Michelle Murphy, told Capital News Service at the time of his death. Frederick was a generator mechanic assigned to a heavy combat battalion near Tikrit in Iraq.
He was pursuing U.S. citizenship for over a year but his application was stalled several times due to communication mishaps from the U.S. government.
These errors at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services included a failure to send his application to the military processing unit, returning his application for failure to pay fees even though military personnel are exempt and asking him show up at a Maryland office to resubmit his fingerprints even though he was serving in Iraq.
It was the last request that led to his death.
The legislation will be named after him. The Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act will seek to detangle the bureaucratic process. The bill will require a military citizenship advocate to inform service members about the citizenship process, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office into failed immigration services for the military and a specific hotline for service members and their families.
“Spc. Frederick made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States while trying to become one of its own,” said Cummings in his statement. “This legislation will honor his life and his love for this country by easing the path to citizenship for those serving in the Armed Forces.”
Frederick received numerous awards — including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star — as well as a posthumous promotion from specialist to sergeant. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His goal of U.S. citizenship was granted to him a week after he died.
His mother said this action came too late.
“My son did not die for this country,” she said in an interview after the news conference. “He was a Trinidad citizen when he died.”
How her son could be deployed to the war and not be a citizen still baffles her.
“If you’re signing a paper that says ‘I am willing to fight and die for this country’ the next paper you should be signing is your name to a U.S. citizenship.”