WASHINGTON – Diego Rincon, a Georgia soldier killed in Iraq, lived and died as a Colombian citizen. The state's senators want him buried as an American.
In Rincon's honor, Sens. Zell Miller and Saxby Chambliss are seeking not only posthumous citizenship for the Conyers, Ga., resident but automatic citizenship for all foreign-born soldiers killed fighting for the United States.
Last year, President Bush announced an executive order making it easier for the families of foreign nationals killed in combat to apply for citizenship for the soldiers. Two Marines killed in Iraq, Cpl. Jose Angel Garibay and Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, have already been granted posthumous citizenship.
Miller says the process should be automatic, he said, unless family members opt against citizenship.
"Even with the White House helping us, the family had to fill out a lot of documents and deal with a lot of government red tape," said Miller, a Democrat.
Citizenship is symbolic, carrying no extra financial benefits for the soldier's family, but the prospect brought Rincon's father to tears.
Jorge Rincon says his son was spurred to enlist in the Army by the resolve he witnessed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His quest for citizenship was slowed by an overflow of requests.
"It made my day and I'm so happy for that," Rincon said of the proposed legislation. "My son is making a change. When he died, he died for something good."
The senators acknowledge it's doubtful they can get the bill approved before Rincon's burial, which will likely be next week, but they've asked the White House and immigration officials to expedite Rincon's application.
"It's just the right thing to do," said Chambliss, the Republican chairman of an Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel issues. "Certainly the story of this young man is a very tragic story, but it's a very heartfelt American dream story, too."
There are about 31,000 foreign nationals serving in the American military, at least six of whom have already died in the Iraqi war.
Rincon, 19, died March 29 when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb, killing himself and three other soldiers manning an Army roadblock near Najaf.
Rincon, who moved to the United States at age 5, wrote a letter to his mother from Kuwait on Feb. 22. She received it a few days before his death.
"I guess the time has finally come to see what we are made of, who will crack when the stress level rises and who will be calm all the way through it," wrote Rincon, as he and his unit from the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) based in Fort Stewart, Ga., began to move into Iraq. "Only time will tell."