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Immigrants Pledge Themselves to America This Independence Day; Will America Pledge Herself to Them?

July 01, 2005

Washington, DCThe U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced this week that some 15,000 immigrants would take the oath to become U.S. citizens during our nation’s celebration of Independence Day.  Beginning today through July 7, 41 naturalization ceremonies will be held in 22 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, responded with the following statement.


Citizenship is the cornerstone of America’s immigration success story.  Our forefathers and foremothers came from all corners of the globe and for four centuries we have forged out of this diversity the strongest, smartest, wealthiest, and most admired nation in the world.


At naturalization ceremonies this week across the country, immigrants, their families, and patriots of every stripe will witness one of the great moments in American history–when immigrants raise their right hands and pledge a solemn oath of citizenship to the United States and all she stands for.


These celebrations of citizenship are typically a time of tears and joy, pathos and patriotism, flags and high fives.  The “they” becomes “us.”  The American family grows bigger and stronger.  We witness our newest citizens taking their place in this nation’s pages of history.


As our leaders embark on a national debate over the direction of America’s immigration policies, I hope they do not turn their backs on those immigrants who have sacrificed, waited, struggled, and finally achieved American citizenship.  Nor should they turn their backs on those waiting to be full fledged citizens of this great nation.


Some in Washington say that whatever reforms we fashion need not include a path to permanent residency or citizenship for immigrants; whether they are immigrants already here or those coming in the future.  This approach does a great disservice to America’s tradition of placing citizenship above all else as the golden ring of immigrant achievement. 


Others rightly identify citizenship as the deeply held desire of many, perhaps most, immigrants who come to America to seek opportunity and the American Dream.  One proposal, the bipartisan Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (S. 1033/H.R. 2330) is gathering strength with new co-sponsors.  It represents the most realistic approach to replacing a deadly, chaotic, and uncontrolled immigration system with a safe, legal and orderly one.  It is a common sense, sustainable solution to our desire for control over immigration.


While additional legislative proposals are expected–and welcomed–they will need to measure themselves against benchmarks set by the Secure America Act.  Do they have the bipartisan support needed to pass?  Are they comprehensive enough to realistically fix the problems with our current legal immigration system and our border security regime?  Do they take into account that it is neither realistic nor desirable to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living and working amongst us?  Will they create a two-tiered system where some immigrants are allowed to embrace America fully through citizenship and others are denied this path?


The coming weeks will be telling.  I hope our leaders keep the image of our newest Americans–right hands raised–in their heads when debating immigration reforms.  We must construct policies that recognize immigrants’ heartfelt aspirations to become full partners in the American Dream through citizenship.

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