July 27, 2008, Randallstown, MD – U.S. Army Specialist Kendell Frederick lost his life while trying to become a citizen of the country he was fighting for. Now, his mother hopes a bill President Bush signed into law Thursday will make sure no other soldier dies the way her son did.
Frederick, a native of Trinidad who moved to the U.S. in 1999, was killed in Iraq in October 2005 when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. He was only in the convoy because he had to go to another base to get a duplicate set of fingerprints made for his U.S. citizenship application.
After three years of work by his mother and two Maryland Democrats, Bush signed the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act, which is meant to ease the citizenship process for members of the military.
The law directs the Department of Homeland Security to use fingerprints taken when military personnel enlist and establishes a phone help line. It also taps an advocate to help service members with the process.
The law could help more than 33,000 non-citizens serving in the military, said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who worked on the bill with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Just before he left for Iraq in 2004, Frederick applied for citizenship at the urging of his mother, a 43-year-old naturalized citizen who wears his Army photo on dog tags around her neck. In between getting calls from her son with tales of 140-degree heat or tearful stories about friends’ deaths, Michelle Murphy started getting his citizenship denials in the mail.
First, the immigration service said Frederick had not paid a filing fee, which is supposed to be waived for military personnel. Then, Murphy was told he needed to make changes on the forms. Then officials said they could not accept fingerprints taken in Iraq. Officials gave him two weeks to come to Baltimore to have the prints retaken.
“I couldn’t understand that because it stated on his application that he was in Iraq,” his mother said. “You’ve got men overseas fighting and you don’t have anything in place to help them?”
Eventually, Frederick arranged with immigration officials to get his fingerprints retaken in Iraq. He was killed on the way.
Sen. Mikulski first heard about Frederick’s case when she called Murphy, who told Mikulski she wanted to help prevent military personnel from going through what Frederick had experienced.
If the Department of Homeland Security “had followed their own rules and also had just dealt with them with competency, that young man wouldn’t have been at that convoy,” Mikulski said. “But what we do know is that he did not die in vain. He died serving his country, and now, because of the work of his mother in his name, we have changed the law.”
Mikulski and Cummings introduced the legislation in December 2005, although it did not pass until this year because of scrutiny to make sure it did not lessen citizenship requirements, Cummings said.