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Marines Look Forward to Citizenship

July 20, 2002

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Daniel Njoroge Wanjoh serves under the United States flag, although home is thousands of miles away in Nairobi, Kenya.

Wanjoh is among at least 15,000 foreign nationals serving in the military who became immediately available for citizenship, thanks to a Fourth of July gift from President Bush.

The presidential order applies to anyone serving in the armed forces on Sept. 11. Qualifying foreign nationals may now apply for citizenship right away, rather than first wait three years.

Wanjoh, 24, is filling out his paperwork and looks forward to becoming a U.S. citizen in early 2003.

``I want to serve the country as a citizen, not as a foreigner,″ he said Friday. ``It gives me more heart to work as a citizen while serving the Marines.″

Wanjoh said he decided to join the Marines in 1998, when Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network attacked the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. He was on his way home from school when he heard the blast a few blocks away. Later, he learned two of his cousins were among the dead.

``That made me ... want to become a Marine because the Marines fight terrorism,″ he said.

Wanjoh emigrated to the United States in January 2001 and enlisted three months later.

As a new citizen, Wanjoh, who speaks seven languages, said he will be able to apply to work in military intelligence and bring his mother and two sisters to the country.

More than 31,000 noncitizens are currently serving on active duty _ about 3 percent to 4 percent of America’s total military personnel. Just over half of those were already eligible for citizenship.

The rest have not yet completed their three-year wait. It is this group that would benefit from Bush’s executive order eliminating any waiting period.

While legal permanent residency is all that is required to enlist in the U.S. military, only citizens can be promoted to commissioned or warrant officers, or serve in special warfare programs such as the Navy SEALs.

``There are a lot better jobs we can get as a citizen,″ said Cpl. Maria Miranda Enriquez. ``There are more opportunities for us.″

Enriquez was a high school junior in suburban Chicago when she came home one day and told her family she wanted to be a Marine. She had only emigrated from Guanajuato, Mexico, six months earlier. The 22-year-old enlisted in August 1999.

Her family initially expected her to follow a more traditional path as a woman, but their support has grown as she has moved up in the ranks. So has her love for the United States. When she graduated from boot camp in North Carolina, she cried as ``The Star-Spangled Banner″ played.

Both Wanjoh and Enriquez said they were glad to learn the president had made it easier for them to become citizens. They said the order was a fitting reward for their pledges to defend the nation.

``If we’re serving the country, we deserve to be a U.S. citizen,″ Enriquez said.

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