By Ray O’Hanlon
Irish citizens who died in American uniforms in the Korean War and other conflicts will be eligible to become posthumous American citizens if a bill introduced in Congress becomes law.
H.R. 2623, the Posthumous Citizenship Restoration Act of 2001, was introduced in the House of Representatives last week by Reps. Martin Meehan and James McGovern and was immediately passed to the House Judiciary Committee where, according to a congressional source, it is likely to quickly pick up bipartisan support.
The bill allows for the processing of posthumous citizenship claims on behalf of non-citizen residents of every nationality who died in U.S. uniform, not just in Korea, but in all the major wars fought by the U.S. in the twentieth century including World War Two, Vietnam and "Other Periods of Military Hostilities."
The bill, though broad in scope, is a direct result of a campaign over a period of years on behalf of a number of Irishmen who were killed in Korea between 1950 and 1953. The total of known Irish citizen dead in that conflict now exceeds 20.
"These young men now have a chance of getting what they at least deserve as a result of their sacrifice," said John Leahy, a Co. Kerry native and Korean War veteran who has been a leader in the campaign for posthumous citizenship for the dead Irish.
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Under H.R. 2623, which will amend the existing U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, the next-of-kin of those who comply with the bill’s provisions will be able to apply to the U.S. Attorney General’s office for citizenship on behalf of their deceased relatives.
If no next of kin exist, "another representative" defined by the Attorney General will be allowed to submit the application. An application period of two years will come into effect after the bill is enacted into law.
If the application is successful, the Attorney General will, in the language of the bill, "send to the individual who filed the request a suitable document which states that the United States considers the person to have been a citizen of the United States at the time of the person’s death."
The resulting citizenship will not result in any benefits accruing to surviving family members.
"Our nation has been defended for generations by scores of patriots who traveled from their homelands to a new life in the United States. That they were willing to take up arms and fight to defend their new homeland and the Constitution speaks volumes of their commitment to the American values that we all hold so dear," Rep. Meehan said in a statement.
"I am very pleased to introduce this bill in order to provide the honor of citizenship to those non-citizens who fought as Americans to keep this land free but did not die as Americans," Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, added.
The issue of posthumous citizenship status was first brought to Meehan’s attention by Angus McDonald, president of the Lowell Chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH in Massachusetts passed a resolution at its recent convention that resulted in all members of the state’s congressional delegation being contacted on the issue of posthumous citizenship for deceased veterans, not just Irish but of all nationalities.
"The time has come to recognize the brave immigrants from other countries — including Ireland — who fought and died to preserve our freedoms," Rep. Jim McGovern, also a Massachusetts Democrat, said.
"Given their tremendous sacrifice, the least we can do is allow them to posthumously become citizens of the great nation they died protecting. I am proud to join with my colleague Marty Meehan in introducing this important piece of legislation. I also want to acknowledge State Rep. Jim Leary of Worcester for his hard work on this issue," McGovern added.
"Dan Herlihy, past president of AOH, has been working for years on this. I approached Marty and asked for his help and he was very supportive," said the AOH’s Angus McDonald.
"Dan knew many veterans who fought and died in Korea who weren’t citizens. This isn’t just about the Irish veterans, this is about all of the non-citizens who gave their lives for this country," said McDonald, who added that he hoped that the bill, when signed into law, would "give relatives of deceased veterans some peace that their loved ones died with the honorable mantle of American citizenship."
Before crafting H.R. 2623, Reps. Meehan and McGovern sought advice from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Non-Commissioned Officers Association
(NCOA), Retired Officers Association (ROA), and the American Legion.
Joseph Pirrello, Vice President of the Staten Island chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association of America and a national director of that organization, said he had recently been made aware of the campaign for posthumous citizenship. He will now move to alert chapters around the country so that they could also press their congressional representatives to support the bill.
"We’re going to get behind it all the way," said Mr. Pirrello of the bill.