||Becoming an American:
AMERICANIZATION AND INTEGRATION OF IMMIGRANTS
A DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES AND VALUES
Immigration to the United States has created one of the world's most successful
multiethnic nations. We believe these truths constitute the distinctive
characteristics of American nationality:
American unity depends upon a widely-held belief in the principles and
values embodied in the American Constitution and their fulfillment in practice:
equal protection and justice under the law; freedom of speech and religion;
and representative government;
Lawfully admitted newcomers of any ancestral nationality— without regard
to race, ethnicity, or religion—truly become Americans when they give allegiance
to these principles and values;
Ethnic and religious diversity based on personal freedom is compatible
with national unity; and
As long as we live by these principles and help newcomers to learn and
practice them, we will continue to be a nation that benefits from substantial
but well-regulated immigration. We must pay attention to our core values,
as we have tried to do in our recommendations throughout this report. Then,
we will continue to realize the lofty goal of E Pluribus Unum.2
The nation is strengthened when those who live in it communicate effectively
with each other in English, even as many persons retain or acquire the
ability to communicate in other languages.
The Commission reiterates its call for the
Americanization of new immigrants, that is the cultivation of a shared
commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy and equal opportunity.
The United States has fought for the principles of individual rights and
equal protection under the law, notions that now apply to all our residents.
We have long recognized that immigrants are entitled to the full protection
of our Constitution and laws. And, the U.S. has the sovereign right to
impose obligations on immigrants.
In our 1995 report to Congress, the Commission called for a new commitment
to Americanization. In a public speech that same year, Barbara Jordan,
our late chair, noted: "That word earned a bad reputation when it was stolen
by racists and xenophobes in the 1920s. But it is our word, and we are
taking it back." Americanization is the process of integration by which
immigrants become part of our communities and by which our communities
and the nation learn from and adapt to their presence. Americanization
means the civic incorporation of immigrants, that is the cultivation of
a shared commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy, and equal
The Commission proposes that the principles of Americanization be made
more explicit through the covenant between immigrant and nation. Immigrants
become part of us, and we grow and become all the stronger for having embraced
them. In this spirit, the Commission sees the covenant as:
Voluntary. Immigration to the United States —a benefit to
both citizens and immigrants— is not an entitlement and Americanization
cannot be forced.
Mutual and Reciprocal. Immigration presents mutual obligations.
Immigrants must accept the obligations we impose—to obey our laws, to pay
taxes, to respect other cultures and ethnic groups. At the same time, citizens
incur obligations to provide an environment in which newcomers can become
fully participating members of our society.
To help achieve full integration of newcomers, the Commission calls upon
federal, state, and local governments to provide renewed leadership and
resources to a program to promote Americanization that requires:
Individual, Not Collective. The United States is a nation
founded on the proposition that each individual is born with certain rights
and that the purpose of government is to secure these rights. The United
States admits immigrants as individuals (or individual members of families).
As long as the United States continues to emphasize the rights of individuals
over those of groups, we need not fear that the diversity brought by immigration
will lead to ethnic division or disunity.
Developing capacities to orient both newcomers and receiving communities;
Educating newcomers in English language skills and our core civic values;
Revisiting the meaning and conferral of citizenship to ensure the integrity
of the naturalization process.
The Commission recommends that the federal,
state, and local governments take an active role in helping newcomers become
self-reliant: orienting immigrants and receiving communities as to their
mutual rights and responsibilities, providing information they need for
successful integration, and encouraging the development of local capacities
to mediate when divisions occur between groups. Information
and orientation should be provided both to immigrants and to their receiving
The Commission believes the federal government should help immigrants
and local communities by:
Giving orientation materials to legal immigrants upon admission that include,
but are not limited to: a welcoming greeting; a brief discussion of U.S.
history, law, and principles of U.S. democracy; tools to help the immigrant
locate and use services for which they are eligible; and other immigration-related
information and documents. All immigrants would receive the same materials.
The packets would be available in English and other dominant immigrant
Encouraging state governments to establish information clearinghouses in
major immigrant receiving communities. The Commission recommends that the
federal government provide modest incentive grants to states to encourage
them to establish and maintain local resources that would provide information
to immigrants and local communities.
Promoting public/private partnerships to orient and assist immigrants in
adapting to life in the United States. While the federal government makes
the decisions about how many and which immigrants will be admitted to the
United States, the actual process of integration takes place in local communities.
Local government, schools, businesses, charities, foundations, religious
institutions, ethnic associations, and other groups play important roles
in the Americanization process.
Education is the principal tool of Americanization. Local educational institutions
have the primary responsibility for educating immigrants. However, there
is a federal role in promoting and funding English language acquisition
and other academic and civic orientation for both immigrant children and
The Commission urges a renewed commitment
to the education of immigrant children. The number of school-aged
children of immigrants is growing and expected to increase dramatically.
These children, mostly young, speak more than 150 different languages;
many have difficulty communicating in English. They are enrolled in public
schools as well as in secular and religious private schools throughout
the country. And, in addition to the problems other students have, they
face particular problems in gaining an education— often because of language
The Commission emphasizes that rapid acquisition
of English should be the paramount goal of any immigrant language instruction
program. English is the most critical of basic skills for
successful integration. English can be taught to children in many ways.
Effective programs share certain common characteristics. Based on a review
of these programs, the Commission emphasizes the need for public and private
educational programs to:
Conduct regular evaluations of students' English competence and their ability
to apply it to academic subjects. Such evaluations will ensure placement
of immigrant children into regular English-speaking classes as soon as
they are prepared. Regular evaluation also will highlight strengths and
weaknesses in educational programs and provide insight on improvements
that are needed to ensure timely English acquisition.
Collect and analyze data on immigrant students, including their linguistic
and academic performance and the efficacy of the instructional methods
used in programs for immigrant children.
Include appropriate grade-level instruction in other academic disciplines.
Coordination with teachers, curricula, and instruction outside of English
acquisition will promote students' mastery of regular subject matter while
they expeditiously learn English.
The Commission encourages programs that are
responsive to the needs of immigrant children and an orientation to United
States school systems and the community,such as we have
seen in "newcomer schools." Newcomer schools must not isolate immigrant
newcomers. Instead, they must be transitional and actively promote the
timely integration of students into mainstream schools.
Involve parents of immigrant students in their schooling. A characteristic
of many of the most successful language acquisition programs is the active
involvement of parents in the education of their children.
The Commission recommends the revival and
emphasis on instruction of all kindergarten through grade twelve students
in the common civic culture that is essential to citizenship.
An understanding of the history of the United States and the principles
and practices of our government are an essential for all students, immigrants
and natives alike. Americanization requires a renewed emphasis on the common
core of civic culture that unites individuals from many ethnic and racial
The Commission emphasizes the urgent need
to recruit, train, and provide support to teachers who work with immigrant
students. There is a disturbing shortage of qualified teachers
for children with limited English proficiency, of teacher training programs
for producing such teachers, and of other support for effective English
The Commission supports immigrant education
funding that is based on a more accurate assessment of the impact of immigration
on school systems and that is adequate to alleviate these impacts.
There are costs and responsibilities for language acquisition and immigrant
education programs that are not now being met. We urge the federal government
to do its fair share in meeting this challenge. The long-term costs of
failure in terms of dropouts and poorly educated adults will be far larger
for the nation and local communities than the costs of such programs. More
specifically, we urge the federal government to:
Provide flexibility in federal funding for the teaching of English to immigrant
students to achieve maximum local choice of instructional model.The federal
government should not mandate any one mode of instruction (e.g., bilingual
education, English as a second language programs, immersion).
The Commission urges the federal, state, and
local governments and private institutions to enhance educational opportunities
for adult immigrants. Education for basic skills and literacy
in English is the major vehicle that integrates adult immigrants into American
society and participation in its civic activities. Literate adults are
more likely to participate in the workforce and twice as likely to participate
in our democracy. Literate adults foster literacy in their children, and
parents' educational levels positively affect their children's academic
Make funding contingent on performance outcomes—that is, English language
acquisition and mastery of regular academic subject matter by students
served in these programs. School systems receiving funds because of large
numbers of children with limited English proficiency and immigrant children
should be held to rigorous performance standards. Federal and state funding
incentives should promote—not impede—expeditious placement in regular,
Adult education is severely underfunded. Available resources are inadequate
to meet the demand for adult immigrant education, particularly for English
proficiency and job skills. In recognition of the benefits they receive
from immigration, the Commission urges leaders from businesses and corporations
to participate in skills training, English instruction, and civics education
programs for immigrants. Religious schools and institutions, charities,
foundations, community organizations, public and private schools, colleges
and universities also can contribute resources, facilities, and expertise.
Naturalization is the most important act that a legal immigrant undertakes
in the process of becoming an American. Taking this step confers upon the
immigrant all the rights and responsibilities of civic and political participation
that the United States has to offer (except to become President). The naturalization
process must be credible, and it must be accorded the formality and ceremony
appropriate to its importance.
The Commission believes that the current
legal requirements for naturalization are appropriate, but improvements
are needed in the means used to measure whether an applicant meets these
requirements. With regard to the specific legal requirements,
the Commission supports:
Maintaining requirements that legal immigrants must reside in the United
States for five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful
Permanent Residents [LPRs] who serve in the military) before naturalizing.
We believe five years is adequate for immigrants to embrace, understand,
and demonstrate their knowledge of the principles of American democracy.
Improving the mechanisms used to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history,
civics, and English competence. The Commission believes that the tests
used in naturalization should seek to determine if applicants have a meaningful
knowledge of U.S. history and civics and are able to communicate in English.
The tests should be standardized and aim to evaluate a common core of information
to be understood by all new citizens.
Expediting swearing-in ceremonies while maintaining their solemnity and
dignity. In districts where the federal court has exercised sole jurisdiction
to conduct the swearing-in ceremonies, long delays often result from crowded
court calendars. The Commission recommends that Congress restore the Executive
Branch's sole jurisdiction for naturalization to reduce this waiting time.
The Executive Branch should continue to work with federal judges as well
as other qualified institutions, such as state courts and Immigration Judges,
to ensure that swearing-in ceremonies are consistently conducted in a timely,
efficient, and dignified manner.
Revising the naturalization oath to make it comprehensible, solemn, and
meaningful. The current oath is not easy to comprehend. We believe it is
not widely understood by new citizens. Its wording includes dated language,
archaic form, and convoluted grammar. The Commission proposes the following
revision of the oath as capturing the essence of naturalization.
The Commission calls for urgently needed reforms
to increase the efficiency and integrity of the naturalization process.
The vast majority of applicants for naturalization are law-abiding
immigrants who contribute to our society. The value of Americanization
is eroded whenever unnecessary obstacles prevent eligible immigrants from
becoming citizens. Its value also is undermined when the process permits
the abuse of our laws by naturalizing applicants who are not entitled to
Solemnly, freely, and
without any mental reservation,
I, [name] hereby renounce under oath
[or upon affirmation]
all former political allegiances.
My sole political fidelity
and allegiance from this day forward
is to the United States of America.
I pledge to support and respect
its Constitution and laws.
Where and if lawfully required,
I further commit myself to defend them against all enemies,
foreign and domestic, either by military or civilian service.
This I do solemnly swear [or affirm].
Recognizing steps already are underway to reengineer the naturalization
process, the Commission supports the following approaches:
Instituting efficiencies without sacrificing quality controls. In the Commission's
1995 report to Congress, we recommended that the Immigration and Naturalization
Service [INS] and the Congress take steps to expedite the processing of
naturalization applications while maintaining rigorous standards. Two years
later, the naturalization process still takes too long, and previous efforts
to expedite processing resulted in serious violations of the integrity
of the system. Instituting a system that is both credible and efficient
remains a pressing need.
Improving the integrity and processing of fingerprints. The Commission
believes that only service providers under direct control of the federal
government should be authorized to take fingerprints. If the federal government
does not take fingerprints itself but instead contracts with service
providers, it must screen and monitor such providers rigorously for their
capacity, capability, and integrity. Failure to meet standards would mean
the contract would be terminated.
Contracting with a single English and civics testing service. The Commission
recommends that the federal government contract with one national and respected
testing service to develop and administer the English and civics tests
to naturalization applicants. Having one organization under contract should
help the government substantially improve its oversight. Moreover, contracting
with a highly-respected and nationally-recognized testing service will
help ensure a high-quality product.
Increasing professionalism. While many naturalization staff are highly
professional in carrying out their duties, reports from district offices,
congressional hearings, and complaints from naturalization applicants demonstrate
continued dissatisfaction with the quality of naturalization services.
Recruitment and training of longer-term staff assigned to adjudicating
applications and overseeing quality control would help overcome some of
Improving automation. The Commission is encouraged by plans to develop
linkages among data sources related to naturalization. The Commission recommends
continued funding for an up-to-date, advanced, electronic automation system
for information entry and recordkeeping.
2 Our national motto, E
Pluribus Unum, “from many, one,” was originally conceived to denote the
union of the thirteen states into one nation. Throughout our history, E
Pluribus Unum has also come to mean the vital unity of our national
community founded on individual freedom and the diversity that flows from
Establishing clear fee-waiver guidelines and implementing them consistently.
Under current law, the Attorney General is authorized to grant fee waivers
to naturalization applicants. The Commission has received accounts of legitimate
requests being denied. Clear guidelines and consistent implementation are
needed to ensure that bona fide requests are granted, while guarding
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