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Queens lawmaker passes bill to aid military immigrant families

Assembly member Catalina Cruz speaks at ceremony thanking physicians for their dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of National Doctors' Day at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Those who were there will not soon forget the day in June 2009 when Corona came to a stop to honor U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Alex R. Jimenez, who was killed in action during the Iraq War.

Hundreds gathered as the corner of 37th Drive and 104th Street, as was co-named in his memory on the block he called home.

Jiminez had disappeared in May 2007 after his unit was ambushed by insurgents and he remained missing for more than a year until the Army captured a terrorist who led them to the sergeant’s remains.

Jackson Heights Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz announced that the Alex R. Jimenez New York State Military Immigrant Family Legacy Program was unanimously passed in the Assembly last week.

The legislation would establish a program to help secure legal immigration status for the families of New York veterans and military personnel, and help them defend against deportation. Cruz and Albany Assemblyman Jake Ashby, an Army combat veteran who completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, have worked on the bill for more than two years.

“I am honored to sponsor this important piece of legislation and am beyond thrilled at its passage,” Cruz said. “Since Sept. 2001, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized over 130,000 immigrant members of the military. Over 20 percent of the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor are immigrants. Yet, the road to obtaining U.S. citizenship is not easy and not much support is provided to these brave people seeking assistance with immigration matters. This bill will change that by ensuring access to resources so that our immigrant service members can pursue their citizenship dreams.”

A bill named for Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez passed in the Assembly to aid military immigrant families in obtaining legal status. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Jiminez enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and deployed to Iraq as a part of the 10th Mountain Division. After he was captured by insurgents and listed as missing, his wife, Yadelin, was without documentation and deportation proceedings had begun.

Jimenez was in the process of trying to seek legal status for Yadelin before he deployed, but was denied due to her illegal entry. The story of his bravery, and the plight of his wife, struck a chord with the country and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The agency granted Jimenez’s wife discretionary parole for his sacrifices serving the country. Later, Yadelin secured permanent residency.

“The ability to make a lasting and positive impact on our state is what drew me to public office and this legislation will have such an impact as it will make the dream of citizenship a reality for so many New Yorkers while also honoring a true American hero, Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez,” Ashby said. “The tremendous sacrifices our armed forces personnel make are shared burdens. The sacrifices are made as a family, and this program rightfully honors military families and will fulfill the dream of citizenship for countless New Yorkers.”

While the legislation passed the Assembly, it stalled in the Senate as the legislative session came to an end last week. Jimenez’s family expressed their appreciation for Cruz and Ashby’s “hard work and dedication” in honoring the sergeant’s legacy.

“Our wish is that this program will give immigrant service members and their families the support and peace of mind they deserve, so that they can get on the path to U.S. citizenship,” the family said in a statement.

New York would be the first state in the county to have such a program should it be enacted.

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