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Wife of ailing Ground Zero volunteer to become citizen

Melida Gutierrez Longle, holds a certificate that was

Melida Gutierrez Longle, holds a certificate that was presented to her by Congressman Steve Israel. (Aug. 5, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

A man who says he was injured while working at Ground Zero will soon be able to witness his wife become a citizen, a local Congressman said.

Chris Longley, then co-owner of Water Pure and Simple, a bottled water company, spent several days as a volunteer passing out water from his company at Ground Zero. Longley, 44, of Central Islip, says the toxins he inhaled caused him to suffer from a disease that requires him to be on 'round the clock oxygen. His wife, Melida Gutierrez Longley, a Colombian citizen, helps care for him and also works as team leader at Nature's Bounty.

On June 15, the couple went to Manhattan for her naturalization interview. When they arrived, the couple was told they would have to wait while workers searched for the files, Longley said. Longley said he told immigration workers that he was running out of oxygen and would have to leave soon. After what Longley said was more than four hours, Longley was on his second and last tank of oxygen and the couple left.

They were told by workers that papers finalizing the procedure would arrive in the mail, Longley said. However, on June 29, the couple received a letter saying Melida was "ineligible" for citizenship because officials believed she lived at a different address than her husband. The two have been married for eight years and have lived on Long Island in the same home since, Longley said.

"I lost it," Longley said. "I screamed. I couldn't believe it." Longley said he contacted Congressman Steve Israel's office about the situation.

"I was shocked," Israel (D-Huntington) said. "This is a guy who risked his life and sacrificed his lungs to help rescue workers at Ground Zero. I've never heard of a denial of citizenship based on lack of oxygen and that's what this would have amounted to."

Israel's office got the case reopened and explained the error in addresses. As a result, Melida's citizenship application was approved, Israel said.

Melida is now scheduled to take her naturalization oath on Aug. 19, Israel said. An official from Citizenship and Immigration Services said she could not comment on specific cases because of privacy issues.

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