The bill, H.R. 2623, was passed last week as part of an omnibus authorization bill for the Department of Justice.
Supporters of the posthumous citizenship measure, which must next be approved by the U.S. Senate, hailed passage of the bill as a victory in a campaign that has been going on for over 25 years but which gained political momentum only in the last couple.
“Justice has been done after 50 years,” said campaigner John Leahy, a Kerry native and Korea veteran who now lives in St. Augustine, Fla. “We’re now hoping for quick Senate action and closure for the families. These men more than deserve their citizenship.”
A vote in the Senate, however, might not be immediate due to pressing business related to homeland security and the possibility of war with Iraq.
There is a companion bill in the Senate that will likely be reconciled with the House measure.
The list of Irish nationals who died in the three-year-long Korean conflict and who could now secure belated has been growing and now approaches 30. Several of them are listed as MIAs.
The House bill, formally entitled the Posthumous Citizenship Restoration Act of 2001, covers all nationalities and wars though it was inspired by the plight of the dead Irish soldiers from Korean War, which was fought from 1950-53.
It was co-authored by Massachusetts Reps. Marty Meehan, James McGovern and Barney Frank, all Democrats, and New York Republican Rep. Vito Fossella.
“I’m thrilled for the families,” Meehan said. “These soldiers were real patriots and adopted America as their home to honor and defend. This legislation will help fulfill their dreams of U.S. citizenship.”
The issue of posthumous citizenship status for the Irish non-citizen soldiers was brought to the attention of Meehan’s office by Angus McDonald, the president of the Lowell Chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Massachusetts.
A spokesman for Rep. McGovern, Michael Mershon, said that McGovern was “delighte” to see the bill finally passed.
As political action began building behind the bill in recent months — it had over 70 co-sponsors when passed by the House last Thursday — it attracted the support of influential veterans’ groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Non-Commissioned Officers Association and the American Legion.
Assuming approval in the Senate, where the companion measure is sponsored by Democrats Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of New York, and Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the bill the be sent to President Bush for signing before passing into law.