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ARLINGTON, Va. — One soldier’s death, a determined family and Georgia lawmakers touched by their story set in motion a bill that would automatically grant posthumous U.S. citizenship to non-naturalized troops killed in combat.

Both houses of Congress now have blessed the bill, embedded in the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill; the Senate passed it Wednesday and the House of Representatives on Nov. 7. The bill now goes to the president for a signature.

The measure got started this spring, when the family of Colombian-born Pfc. Diego Rincon, killed March 29 in Iraq by a suicide bomber, sought to expedite the process of having Rincon granted U.S. citizenship before the funeral.

“Although Diego wasn’t born in this country, he and many others have died on the battlefield fighting for it,” said Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., who co-sponsored the bill with a fellow Georgian, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

“I am pleased they will all now have this final honor,” Miller said.

The bestowing of citizenship would be applicable to active duty, Guard and Reserve, if deceased on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The process would be automatic when an immigrant servicemember dies in combat, unless a family member objects and stops the process.

A similar measure introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and also part of the Defense Authorization Bill, would let living noncitizen servicemembers apply immediately for citizenship upon reaching their first permanent duty station, instead of having to wait three years from the time they began serving. It also would waive the $260 application fee and set up naturalization processing centers overseas.

The reduction of the waiting period isn’t new to applicants, however. An executive order signed by President Bush on July 3, 2002, already expedited the process, retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, but did not waive fees or set up overseas centers.

Right now, applicants must download form N400 at www.uscis.gov, or pick up an application from any U.S. embassy or consulate.

The USCIS cannot mail applications to military APO or FPO addresses, so applicants are limited to requesting the paperwork via the Internet or phone, or asking a family member or friend to request applications on their behalf.

Since the executive order, which can be terminated only with another executive order, more than 10,000 of the military’s 37,000 non-U.S. citizen servicemembers have applied for citizenship, said Dan Kane, a spokesman at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly INS.

Pentagon officials do not know how many of the 37,000 immigrant troops currently are in Iraq or supporting areas, said spokesman Cmdr. Randy Sandoz.

Kane recommended applicants clearly mark that they are servicemembers and are seeking to expedite the application under Bush’s executive order.

The review and interview process takes several months for applicants who are in the United States, Kane said. It will take longer for those overseas who have to travel to the United States for the process.

How to apply

Servicemembers interested in applying for U.S. citizenship must submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Agency spokesman Dan Kane recommended that applicants clearly mark on the application that they are servicemembers, looking to “fast-track” the application, and filing under Executive Order 13269, signed by President Bush on July 3, 2002.

The most expeditious way is to download the form N400 from the Internet at www.uscis.gov, and select the “Immigration forms, fees and fingerprints” category. The application fee is $260, excluding a possible fee for fingerprinting. There is a detailed waiver process available for the application fee.

Overseas, applicants can pick up a copy of the form at any U.S. embassy.

Applicants can call (800) 870-3676 or (800) 375-5283 and request form N400.

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