Gold Star Mothers Bar Noncitizen

Associated Press
Friday, May 27, 2005

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., May 26 -- Everyone agrees that Ligaya Lagman of Westchester, N.Y., is a Gold Star mother, part of the long line of women whose sons or daughters were killed in combat for the U.S. armed services.

Her 27-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, was killed last year in Afghanistan.

But the American Gold Star Mothers have rejected her for membership because -- though a permanent resident and a taxpayer -- she is not a U.S. citizen.

The group's national president, Ann Herd, said: "There's nothing we can do, because that's what our organization says. You have to be an American citizen." She added: "We can't go changing the rules every time the wind blows."

That explanation outraged the war veteran who sponsored Lagman's application, some other members of the mothers group and several members of Congress.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said the group should change its rules immediately. He said the Gold Star Mothers' decision smacks of xenophobia and is in contrast to what Anthony Lagman fought and died for.

A past president of the mothers group, Dorothy Oxendine of Farmingdale, Long Island, said: "There's no discrimination in a national cemetery. There's no discrimination when they get killed side by side. So how can we discriminate against a mother?" Oxendine, the former president, said she is sure the general membership would approve a rules change if the board did.

Ligaya Lagman, a Filipino, has lived in the United States for more than 20 years.

Her application was initiated by Ben Spadaro, a veteran from Yonkers. He learned of Anthony Lagman's death and thought the soldier's mother would be able to join.

Spadaro is not giving up. He got his brother, a lawyer, to write to the Justice Department, noting that the mothers group receives federal assistance, and is demanding an investigation.

And on Monday, during Memorial Day observances at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2285 in Eastchester, N.Y., Ligaya Lagman will be presented with a gold necklace bearing a gold star.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company