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Sailors Take Citizenship Oath in Calif.

May 2, 2003

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Forty-four Navy sailors took their oath of citizenship Thursday in a ceremony that underscored how the military has accommodated immigrants seeking naturalization by their adopted country.

The men and women left the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was scheduled to arrive in San Diego on Friday, to attend the swearing-in at the Cabrillo National Monument. Sixteen were from the Philippines, six hailed from Mexico and the rest were from countries scattered around the globe, including Cuba, Ukraine and South Korea.

All had their citizenship applications moved to the top of the pile thanks to an executive order that President Bush signed last July to end a three-year wait required for members of the military. Nonmilitary immigrants must wait at least five years.

Petty Officer Philip Asmolov, a native of Ukraine, regretted that the ceremony forced him to miss greeting President Bush, who gave a speech aboard the Abraham Lincoln on Thursday.

``You only get to see that guy once in your life, but I would rather be here,″ Asmolov said.

Asmolov’s family fled political turmoil in his homeland in the early 1990s, and he said citizenship will allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a Navy Seal, a position that is off-limits to noncitizens.

Sailor Ambrosio Luna, who moved to San Diego from Guadalajara, Mexico in 1995 and worked as a dishwasher, cook and machine operator before joining the military, said he wanted to feel more American.

``I’m Mexican all the way, but I’m also an American until I die,″ he said. ``I respect this country. I want to be a part of it all the way.″

About 31,000 noncitizens are in the military, or about 2 percent of the total. Officials said 6,296 had applied for citizenship through March.

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