Judge Upsets Reagan Order on Citizenship

Times Staff Writer

In a ruling blocking citizenship for possibly hundreds of Filipinos serving in the U. S. Navy, a federal judge Thursday invalidated an executive order--signed by President Reagan--extending citizenship to foreign members of the military who participated in the 1983 U. S. invasion of Grenada.

U. S. District Judge Earl B. Gilliam ruled in a case involving a Filipino sailor that Reagan overstepped his authority by imposing a geographical limitation in the directive.

Gilliam’s ruling also means that an undetermined number of permanent resident aliens of any nationality who were in the military and were naturalized solely because of their participation in the Grenada invasion could be stripped of citizenship.

Citizenship Rules


Except for Filipino sailors who enlist in the Navy in the Philippines, U. S. law allows permanent resident aliens who serve honorably in the armed forces for at least three years to be naturalized. Filipino nationals, 400 of whom are allowed under a little-known agreement between the U. S. and Filipino governments to enlist in the Navy each year without first obtaining permanent U. S. residency, can qualify for citizenship only if they serve on active duty during war.

It is not known how many permanent resident aliens are affected by Gilliam’s ruling. However, immigration experts noted that the Grenada invasion occurred more than five years ago, giving those aliens enough time to petition for citizenship under the provision that they served honorably for three years.

Instead, Gilliam’s ruling has a direct affect on an unknown number of Filipino nationals who participated as sailors in the Grenada invasion.

If Gilliam had struck down the geographical limitation in Reagan’s order of Feb. 4, 1987, as requested by Arthur Reyes, a San Diego-based Navy enlisted man who sued the Immigration and Naturalization Service for citizenship, an estimated 1,700 Filipino sailors could have qualified for U. S. citizenship, according to the Navy.

Obscure Statute

Reyes, an eight-year veteran, had sued on grounds that the “legislative history” of an obscure immigration statute prohibits the President from imposing a geographical limitation when he declares a period of hostilities. Reagan declared the time between Oct. 25 and Nov. 2, 1983--the time of the invasion--to be a period of military hostilities.

Gilliam agreed with Reyes’ argument, but he ruled that it was not Reagan’s intent that every alien serving anywhere during the nine days of the invasion become eligible for citizenship.

Reyes, a petty officer first class, is on sea duty and was unavailable for comment Thursday. His attorney, Robert Mautino, said he will probably appeal Gilliam’s ruling. Attorneys for the INS could not be reached for comment.

In a seven-page ruling mailed to attorneys in the case, Gilliam wrote that “the order is struck down in its entirety” because it was illegal for Reagan to limit it only to those servicemen who participated in the Grenada invasion.

Reyes, 30, and a law school graduate, sued the INS in June after the agency rejected his petition for citizenship. Reyes argued, and Gilliam agreed, that since World War I, and through all subsequent wars, Congress has refused to attach a geographical limitation to the immigration statute.

“The President’s order goes against the intent of Congress,” Gilliam said in the written ruling. “As such, he is attempting to contravene the will of Congress.” However, Gilliam noted that the statute gives the President the authority to designate a period of hostilities.

Ben Patron, a chief petty officer and nine-year Navy veteran, said that “everybody is frustrated by the judge’s ruling. How can he undeclare a declared period? I don’t understand it.” Patron is president of the American Servicemen Citizenship Assn., a group of Filipino sailors organized to lobby for citizenship rights.

Reyes was serving in San Diego at the time of the invasion, but argued that he deserved to be naturalized under the statute because the law had never included a geographical limitation. Gilliam agreed, and further noted that any U. S. serviceman could be sent to a war zone at any time.

As an example, Reyes referred to Navy corpsman Godofredo Romanillos Quirante, who enlisted in the Philippines and was among the more than 240 U. S. servicemen who died when Muslim terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut two days before the Grenada invasion.

Precedent Cited

Judge Gilliam said that precedent allowed for immediate naturalization under the statute “regardless of where the person served” during a period of war.

But Gilliam rejected Reyes’ request to strike down only the geographical limitation included in Reagan’s order. To do this would permit all aliens in the armed forces to become naturalized, regardless of where they were stationed, Gilliam said.

To strike down the geographical limitation would cause Reagan’s order to lose “its intended meaning,” Gilliam said.

“It was not the President’s intent that every alien serving anywhere during the nine days of the invasion become eligible for citizenship,” he said.