When Lance Cpl. CÚsar Machado-Olmos was called to his second tour of duty in Iraq, he probably wouldn't have even considered quibbling about whether the paperwork was in order. But because bureaucrats far from the front are more concerned with keeping their files in order, the dream of the 20-year-old Marine from Spanish Fork, Utah -- to become an American citizen -- was not to be realized in his lifetime.
    It was not only because that lifetime was tragically short, ending Sept. 13 in a Humvee accident in hostile territory, but because the Department of Homeland Security lost his application forms.
    Chances are that his wish for citizenship will be granted posthumously, as it has been for 37 other noncitizens who have died in the line of duty since 9-11. But that is small comfort to his family and friends. And it should offend the sensibilities of all Americans, in whose name the young man took up arms.
    President Bush, quite correctly, has directed that noncitizens in the U.S. armed services be given a fast track if and when they apply for citizenship. It is the least our government can do for people who risk everything for the nation that may not have given them birth, but has promised them everything else.
    Performance, however, has not matched the promises.
    Out of 18,000 servicemen and women who have applied for expedited citizenship, only 8,000 have become citizens. And posthumous citizenship for service members confers no real benefits to the deceased, obviously, but also, for no good reason, offers nothing to the hero's family.
    GIs who become citizens while they are still alive win -- no, earn -- special consideration for their family members as they seek lawful residence in the United States. But when the status is granted posthumously, it amounts to little more than another cherished remembrance. None of the special consideration the service member earned in uniform transfers to his or her kin.
    This is wrong.
    Any benefits available to the families of live servicemen rightly belong just as much, if not more so, to those who are killed while in uniform.
    At least the requirement that living service members had to return to U.S. territory to take the final citizenship oath is being modified. Starting Oct. 1 -- too late for Cpl. Machado-Olmos -- embassies and military installations abroad will fill the bill.
    Those outposts are defended as though they were American soil. People who guard those little bits of the homeland should not be told that they are risking their lives to defend something that doesn't count.