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Public Safety

Bill that would speed citizenship for families of fallen first responders gets support of local law chiefs

Legislation named for Kerrie Orozco, Omaha police officer killed in 2015

Kerrie Orozco
Kerrie Orozco

Two Eastern Iowa law enforcement leaders are joining 65 others from across the country this week to support a bill that would help immigrant families of first responders who die in the line of duty.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House in September, would allow a surviving spouse, child or parent of a U.S. citizen first responder who died in service to be eligible to obtain citizenship through an expedited process.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman and Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek signed the letter that was sent Monday asking U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass the bill — called the Kerrie Orozco Act — in the Senate before the end of this year’s session.

Jerman, in a statement, said this bill is named after Orozco, an Omaha, Neb., police officer who made the “ultimate sacrifice while protecting her community.”

She was a seven-year veteran of the department killed in the line of duty in 2015, according to the support letter. Her husband, Hector Orozco, became a single father, while also facing a wait time of five years before he could apply for citizenship.

Jerman said this legislation would pave the way for her family, along with many others, to obtain citizenship and allow the father of her child to remain in the United States.

Pulkrabek was out of the office Tuesday and not available for comment.

Other Iowa law enforcement officials supporting the bill are Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper, Story County Sheriff Paul H. Fitzgerald, Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy and Storm Lake Director of Public Safety Mark Prosser.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, allows a surviving spouse, child or parent of a first responder who died in service or as a result of their service to apply for U.S. citizenship more quickly by waiving the five-year continuous residence and the 30-month physical presence requirements for naturalization, according to the support letter.

The bill requires that the surviving spouse or other relative still meet all other requirements for naturalization, such as being a lawful permanent resident, having good moral character, and being able to read, write and speak in English.

“When first responders make the ultimate sacrifice, we can honor their memory by enabling close family members and dependents to naturalize quickly,” leaders of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, which backs the bill, said in a news release. “This bill would allow these families to find stability at an incredibly difficult time.”

The bill is patterned after legal provisions that allow members of Gold Star Families to naturalize after the death of active-duty service members killed in military service, according to the letter.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com