Soldier first, citizen at last

Family of fallen man presented with law that eases naturalization process

July 02, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,SUN REPORTER

Under clear blue skies and with a large billowing American flag fluttering in the distance at Fort McHenry, Michelle Murphy struggled to hold back tears as she stood at the lectern to speak.

She was at yesterday's ceremony to receive a copy of recently passed legislation named for her son, an Army reservist who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb while on his way to provide fingerprints for his citizenship application.

The new law, signed by President Bush, allows those serving in the military to use the fingerprints they gave when they enlisted to process new naturalization paperwork, rendering unnecessary the deadly trip Spc. Kendell Frederick took near Tikrit in 2005.

"This has been a long day coming for my family," Murphy told dozens of attendees, including family and friends, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. Frederick - who was born in Trinidad and lived in Randallstown - was granted citizenship posthumously.

"We can do better in this country," Cummings said during the ceremony. "It took her pain to make a cause."

Added Mikulski: "His country let him down."

The new Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act will help foreign-born members of the military by making it easier for them to fill out citizenship applications and will increase coordination between immigration and military services.

"This is big to get signed and passed," said Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam. "As an immigrant myself, this makes us feel like we are valued."

Murphy contacted Mikulski about the new legislation after her son died. The senator, who worked with Cummings, said the law will help more than 20,000 people serving in the military. Bush signed the bill earlier this year.

"I'm glad it's all over even though he won't be here," said Frederick's sister Kennisha Murphy, 18, a student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. "His name will be in history."

Kennisha Murphy was 15 when her brother died. Although the ceremony reminded her of her loss, causing tears to well up, Kennisha broke into a smile remembering her brother's protective nature.

As his younger sister, she said, "He was always watching me, sometimes annoying me." She added that Frederick was there to help with homework and make her laugh.

During the ceremony in a small, enclosed grassy area overlooking the Northwest Harbor, the PanMajestic Youth Academy Steel Orchestra brightened the mood. Frederick's youngest sister, Kendra, 13, performed with the group, and Murphy said her son had performed in a similar ensemble in Trinidad.

At the end, Murphy was given a copy of the act, a pen that President Bush had used to sign the bill and a gold eagle brooch from Mikulski. Murphy was also presented with an American flag from her cousin Robert Stewart, who is a Fort McHenry park ranger.

Murphy had copies of Faces of Freedom, a book that features profiles of 52 fallen soldiers from different states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Murphy encouraged people to buy the book; the proceeds go to Fisher House and Wounded Warrior Project organizations.

On page 84, a large photo of Frederick flashing a wide white smile captures his positive attitude. Murphy said her son was always smiling.

"He knows his mom is a fighter," Murphy said, laughing. "He would have said 'Go mom.' "

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