A new measure introduced in the House Thursday would waive fees for family members of Purple Heart recipients seeking to become American citizens, saving them hundreds of dollars.
The Sergeant First Class Javier Gutierrez Purple Heart Survivor Naturalization Fee Relief Act of 2021 -- introduced by Florida Republican Rep. Michael Waltz and California Democrat Rep. Salud Carbajal -- would eliminate processing fees for parents, spouses and children of service members who were awarded the Purple Heart.
"The very least we can do to help these Purple Heart and Gold Star families is to help them become Americans," Waltz said in a statement.
Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Green Beret in the National Guard, noted that this bill won't speed up the citizenship process for families or eliminate steps; it's strictly intended to waive fees.
The fee to submit the I-360, a petition for American citizenship, is $435. The N-400, an application for naturalization, requires a $640 fee. The fee to process biometrics, including fingerprints, is $85.
Waltz doesn't foresee many obstacles to the bill's passage, but told Military.com it could eventually be tied to the next National Defense Authorization Act, the yearly must-pass measure that directs funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon. It's common for military legislation to be stapled to the NDAA to ease its passing into law.
"While we've introduced this separately and will get support, I suspect at the end of the day this will be a component of the defense bill," Waltz said.
Gutierrez, the bill's namesake, was a Green Beret killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province Feb. 8, 2020. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez was also killed in the attack. Both men were 28 years old. Six other U.S. service members were wounded.
Gutierrez's widow, Elena, became a legal permanent resident last year and will remain so for five years until she can become a citizen.
"We appreciate that this bill is one less worry for families like ours," Elena Gutierrez said in a statement. "We miss him dearly but are tremendously proud of the honorable life he lived."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.