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Florida congressman honors fellow Green Beret with bipartisan immigration legislation

A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez, of San Antonio, Texas, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Feb. 10, 2020. Gutierrez was killed in eastern Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 8, 2020.

ERIC M. FISHER/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JIM THOMPSON | The Walton Sun | Published: March 3, 2021

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — A retired Green Beret now serving Florida in Congress is working to honor a fellow Green Beret killed in combat in Afghanistan last year while serving with the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican who represents part of Florida's northeast Atlantic Coast, including Daytona Beach, is sponsoring immigration-related legislation moving through Congress as the Sergeant First Class Javier J. Gutierrez Purple Heart Survivor Naturalization Fee Relief Act of 2021.

The legislation would waive naturalization fees for parents, spouses and children of military personnel who have earned the Purple Heart while serving the United States. Additionally, the legislation would waive those fees for Gold Star families, comprising the families of fallen service members.

If passed, the legislation could save hundreds of dollars for those qualified family members. Filing the required petitions with the federal government can cost anywhere from more than $400 to more than $600. Also, a required fingerprinting, photograph and signature card cost an additional $85.

The Purple Heart is awarded to troops wounded seriously enough to require medical attention while in action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of enemy action.

Gutierrez, who died Feb. 8 of last year in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province during what appeared to be an insider attack by someone wearing an Afghan uniform, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, an award for heroic or meritorious service. He also was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant first class.

Also killed in the incident was another 7th Group soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rodriguez, an Army Ranger serving the 7th Group as a cryptologic linguist. Like Gutierrez, Rodriguez was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star and promoted to sergeant first class.

Both soldiers were 28 years old when they were killed.

Then-President Donald Trump, along with then-Vice President Mike Pence and Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose district includes Eglin, were in attendance at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base three days after the incident for the dignified transfer of the remains of Gutierrez and Rodriguez to their families. Gaetz later called seeing their remains come off the plane "my most painful experience in 10 years in public life."

Waltz is the first Green Beret to serve in Congress, according to the biography on his official U.S. House of Representatives website. He spent 20 years in the Army, including — like Gutierrez — time in Afghanistan.

The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D- California, a veteran who "served eight years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, including active-duty service during the Gulf War in 1992 where he was mobilized to Jacksonville, North Carolina," according to the biography on his official House website.

The legislation being sponsored by Waltz and Carbajal bears Gutierrez's name because his wife, Elena, was going through the legal naturalization process to become an American citizen at the time her husband was killed.

In a news release, Elena Gutierrez thanked Waltz and Carbajal on behalf of herself and the couple's four children, all under 10 years of age, for honoring her husband's memory.

"My husband was dedicated to service and helping those less fortunate," Gutierrez said. She went on to quote the Special Forces motto "De Oppresso Liber," Latin for "to free the oppressed."

"We appreciate that this bill is one less worry for families like ours," Gutierrez added. "We miss him dearly but are tremendously proud of the honorable life he lived."

"This bipartisan legislation demonstrates Congress's commitment to support the families tendering care to the needs of our wounded service members and to help those bearing the unbearable sacrifice of devotion to our nation," Waltz said in the news release. "The very least we can do to help these Purple Heart and Gold Star families is to help them become Americans."

"Members of our military and their families have sacrificed so much in service to our country, with some having paid the ultimate price. We can never repay them for their sacrifice, but this bipartisan bill will help ease the burden on Gold Star and Purple Heart families by removing a monetary barrier to citizenship," Carbajal said.

The bill was introduced in the House on Feb. 25, and assigned to the Judiciary Committee, where it had not seen any reported action as of Wednesday afternoon.

(c)2021 The Walton Sun (Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.)
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Sgts. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez, left, and Antonio R. Rodriguez, who died in Afghanistan in February 2020.
U.S. ARMY