Citizenship Allows Ice Dancer to Compete in Olympics

With a stroke of the pen today, President Bush bolstered America's chances of winning an ice-dancing medal at the Olympics in Turino, Italy, next year.

This afternoon at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, Bush signed a big federal spending bill that included a provision that would make star skater Tanith Belbin a U.S. citizen.

Canadian by birth, Belbin moved to Michigan in 1998 and got her green card in 2002. That allowed Belbin and her American partner, Ben Agosto, to compete for the United States internationally, but not in the Olympic Games.

If she had been forced to wait the required five years for citizenship, she would have missed the 2006 Winter Games -- after having already missed the 2002 Games. But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., authored an immigration measure that put Belbin's application on the fast track. He then attached it to a bill that funds the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

Congress passed the bill just before adjourning last week, giving Belbin what she called "the best Christmas gift I could ever ask for."

Belbin and Agosto, two-time and reigning U.S. ice-dance champions, are touted as the United States' best chance for an Olympic medal in ice dance. The last time a U.S. team medaled in the event was in 1976.

Last year, Belbin and Agosto became the first U.S. dance team to medal at the World Championships since 1985, when Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert won a bronze medal in Tokyo. The silver medal they won at the 2005 World Championships was the United States' first in 30 years.

Another Obstacle

Belbin's path to citizenship hit some roadblocks besides red tape. The parents of competitor David Mitchell lobbied against Levin's bill, arguing that Belbin's citizenship could hamper their son's hopes of making the U.S. team with partner Loren Galler-Rabinowitz.

In a letter to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., obtained by ESPN, Dean and Lynn Mitchell asked her to block Levin's amendment. "They have worked very hard, and played by all the established rules for representing the U.S. in international competitions," the letter stated. "In our obviously personal opinion, no team where both are U.S.-born citizens should risk not getting an Olympic spot because the rules were bent or changed to help someone who is not currently a citizen."

The skaters, however, said that they supported Belbin's citizenship bid and that they would not work against it. In a statement to ESPN, Mitchell and Galler-Rabinowitz said they were concerned that the letter to Clinton was viewed as "a personal attack on Ben and Tanith."

"It was not and is not," the statement said. "It was no more than an expression of feeling by a loving and supportive parent, something for which no parent should be attacked."

Belbin and Agosto will compete Jan. 7 through Jan. 15 in St. Louis at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

This year, U.S. ice dancers will compete for the maximum of three spots on the Olympic team -- spots earned largely due to Belbin and Agosto's success at last year's World Championships.

ABC News' Geoff Morrell contributed to this report.