Cantigny Conference Series

July 2000
Wheaton, IL

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Conference program:

I. What is American Citizenship?

II. Dual (or Plural) Citizenship?

III. Are Mexicans a Special Case?

IV. Teaching Immigrants About America


John Fonte, Hudson Institute
Joseph Carens, University of Toronto
Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies, moderator

To Possess the National Consciousness of an American

John Fonte began by reciting the oath of allegiance taken by all immigrants during naturalization. He identified the oath as an act of "transferring allegiance, of leaving a previous people and joining the American people." Calling the oath the "heart of naturalization," Fonte asserted that retaining allegiance to a foreign state is a continuation of "membership in another people and is inconsistent with the moral foundations of American democracy." The American nation, he said, is unique in its foundation "a constitutional regime based on liberal democratic principles."

It was Fonte's central contention that from the beginning the United States was an "ideological" or "propositional" nation. By this he said he meant that the country's members adopted a common language and a common culture and accepted the philosophical underpinnings of the American regime, which he places in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Fonte asserted that notable figures in American history called for newcomers to engage in "patriotic assimilation." He explained, "By patriotic assimilation, I mean the concept that immigrants essentially adopt American principles, American values, and the American heritage as their own. They think of American history as 'our history,' not 'their history.'"

Fonte claimed that the American founders were unambiguous in their insistence on ideological assimilation. He characterized George Washington's notion of patriotic assimilation as the wish that immigrants would conform to the nation's customs, measures, and laws, and thereby become one people. Citing Alexander Hamilton, Fonte said, "the ultimate success of the American republic depends upon 'the preservation of a national spirit and a national character' among native born and immigrant alike." A principle underlying the initiation of public schools in America, according to Fonte, was their role in promulgating civic awareness. For example, John Adams declared, "Schools for the education of all should be placed at convenient distances, and maintained at public expense...Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom."

But today, Fonte said, the notion of patriotic assimilation "is under attack." We're told by elites today that there's something called a demographic imperative, that millions of new immigrants from non-Western cultures and their children are entering America. At the same time, we have an increase in global interdependence and transnational connections. Therefore, elites tell us that Americans should alter their values because these demographic changes are rendering the traditional paradigm of American nationhood obsolete.

"We're also told, particularly in universities," he added, "that what matters is not the individual citizen, but race, ethnicity, and gender. This has led to group preferences for what are considered victim groups, and often this includes immigrants, legal and illegal. We are also told that the so-called dominant culture must be changed."

Fonte listed many specific alterations being recommended by "elites". Among them were an end to the requirement that new citizens abandon all prior allegiances, an end to the English language requirement for citizenship, a relaxation of citizenship test standards or the elimination of the test altogether, and the encouragement of non-citizen voting and dual citizenship. Fonte termed advocacy of these policies "post-American, post-democratic, and post-constitutional."

According to Fonte, in the earlier great wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, the large numbers of immigrants were aided in their assimilation by the influence of "patriotic elites" that today either do not exist or exist only in comparatively small numbers. Policies such as multiculturalism and bilingualism, he said, are favored by many of today's elites, whereas, in 1900, "we insisted a school teach in English, and the federal government promoted Americanism and individual rights." Contrarily, he explained that today group consciousness and group rights are promoted instead.

Fonte conceded that some degree of assimilation will occur in today's immigrants, regardless of present trends. He pointed to American mass culture as a "powerful integrating force" that does and will continue to exert considerable influence, particularly among young newcomers. However, he voiced a concern that this form of assimilation might veer more toward "popular or mass culture" rather than patriotic assimilation. He offered a forecast of three possibilities for the future of American citizenship. The traditional citizen, who embraces fully America's traditional notions of patriotism; a "post-citizen" or "nominal citizen," who is "basically a consumer or a customer"; or the "counter citizen," whose loyalty is to "some group ideology" or is opposed to American ideology.

Fonte concluded by saying the issue of assimilation of today's newcomers into America is at a crossroads: "The principal question is, should the American civic regime be perpetuated?"

The American Civic Regime Will Be Perpetuated

Joseph Carens began by addressing Fonte's parting question directly. Yes, the American civic regime will be perpetuated, he said, adding, "Let us say it will be both perpetuated and transformed." Carens said he was inclined to view the question in a fashion he termed "less sharp" than Fonte. He suggested that the forces influencing assimilation today are "less global and much less dramatic" than Fonte postulated.

"The debate," Carens suggested, "is around particular issues and whether people are made to feel welcome, and the extent to which diversity is appropriate."

He offered as an example his overhearing a young girl express marked disapproval of her parents speaking Hindi while he was traveling on a bus in the United Kingdom. "That's the sort of thing I would worry about," Carens said. "If that's what the culture communicates, that's an inappropriate communication."

Carens noted that his view of the subject is influenced by his experience as an Irish Catholic American who emigrated to Canada at the age of 40. "Over the course of a decade or so, I gradually became a Canadian, but I did not not become an American," he said. He pointed out that his children also hold citizenship in Canada as well as the United States.

According to Carens, the concept of dual citizenship is accepted and expected by almost every nation in the world. Calling the idea that one people would all have identical citizenship "an illusion," he offered three possible ways of thinking about citizenship: "We can think about citizenship as legal status, citizenship as identity, and citizenship as ideal."

Legal status, Carens noted, identifies an individual's formal position as a member of the American political community and the legal rights and duties that are attendant on that status. Citizenship as identity, he said refers to a person's sense of belonging to the American political community and "the sense by others that one belongs." Citizenship as an ideal refers to "one's picture of how the members of the American political community should relate to one another and to the community as a whole."

Carens noted that these three concepts of citizenship should not be conflated. Although related "in complex ways," he said, "they are not identical." He also noted that there is variability within these categories of citizenship. "Even among people born and raised in the United States who are citizens, the strength and salience of their identity as Americans, the degree of their attachment to the United States, varies considerably between different individuals and within a given individual from one moment to the next, depending on circumstances."

Carens suggested that legal status does not necessarily determine whether or not a person identifies him- or herself as an American. And though the government may exercise authority over individuals legal rights, "it is both more difficult and less appropriate for the state to try to determine peoples' identities." He agreed that government should be active in encouraging immigrants as well as citizens by birth to "identify themselves as Americans, to be attached to America." But, he added, "We cannot command hearts and minds, and we should not attempt to do so."

Noting that many permanent residents in the United States spend their entire lives here without obtaining citizenship, Carens pointed out that legal distinctions between citizens and non-citizens have essentially diminished to the point that the only significant ones remaining are the right to vote and to obtain an American passport. He asked, "Should we celebrate or denigrate this historical trend?" Saying that he is inclined to celebrate and extend the trend further, Carens stated, "In my view, liberal democratic justice, properly understood, greatly constrains the distinctions that can be made between citizens and residents."

He suggested that permanent residents, after a while, "pass a threshold that entitles them to virtually the same legal status as citizens." He acknowledged that it is fair during the early stages of settlement to limit the rights afforded newcomers, though he also noted he does not advocate this limitation. Though he said it might be fair to limit new immigrants rights to re-distributive benefits or protection against deportation, he termed this stance "unwelcoming and unwise." In his view, "people who have lived as permanent residents in the United States for a number of years have become Americans in fact, even if they have not become citizens through naturalization, and they should be treated as Americans."

Carens concluded by noting that what he was advocating was a "justification of current practice," not "some kind of radical claim." He identified three areas of clear disagreement with Fonte. First, he does not want to see "an extension" of the distinction between permanent residents and citizens. Second, he claimed that federal employment that is restricted to citizens is effectively discriminatory against long-term U.S. residents. Though he agreed that "jobs involving national security or major policymaking responsibilities" might be restricted to citizens, he argued that other kinds of government jobs ought to be available to permanent residents. Finally, and a claim Carens identified as being "the most controversial," he said that individuals who have long lived in the U.S. should not have to face deportation. The Center for Immigration Study's daily electronic news service, he noted, "is full of stories of kids who came here at the age of two and are now being deported at twenty-three back to some country where they've never lived and have no connections. They don't even speak the language. My view of that is, basically, these are Americans. If they're bad people, they're bad Americans."

Questions about Citizenship

Does the United States, being more of an "ideological nation" than most other nations, increase the importance of acquiring formal, legal citizenship?

Carens responded by noting that his experience had taught him that becoming a Canadian was very similar to becoming an American. He did note that Americans "tend to have a much stronger sense of national identity." He also voiced his support for Fonte's claim that in addition to a "proposition," the U.S. boasts a significant history and that the telling of that history is an attempt to get people to identify with it. But he also pointed to the example of European nations and their respective experiences in assimilating large numbers of immigrants and differentiating the concept of nation from that of citizenship. He added that certain European countries are "toning down the cultural conception of nation" and that "they've all moved in that direction."

Drawing upon Carens' reference to the U.S. and Canada, Fonte responded by noting that around 1830, Alexis de Toqueville visited both the English- and French-speaking areas of Canada. Upon his return to the U.S., he was struck by how different English-speaking Canadians were from their American counterparts. Calling the United States the "most patriotic, the most religious, the most individualistic, and the most anti-elitist, anti-hierarchical nation," Toqueville said that for all the United States' similarities with Canada, there remains "a broad difference." He suggested that the American "proposition" drove this difference and that the Canadian "proposition" was "with the Tories...They fled the American Revolution. The identity of English Canada was in opposition to the American Revolution."

The Hudson Institute's Steve Sailer suggested that "Canada can afford to be somewhat more easygoing about questions of assimilation and citizenship because it has a more rational immigration selection system." He noted that Canada has a Web site that invites prospective immigrants to submit claims for their candidacy for citizenship and that their eligibility is determined on the site. Canada, he said, accepts better-educated immigrants in nuclear families who possess skills "that can fit in well," and therefore "issues of trying to assimilate them become less important." The U.S., on the other hand, he said, "takes in huge chains of immigrants without much skills, who don't speak English well, and whose main qualifications are that they're related to somebody in the United States."

Political scientist Stanley Renshon asked Carens about a recent formal review of Canada's immigration policy that "essentially paralleled the recommendations for Canada that the Jordan Commission recommended for the United States namely, more attention to acculturation and integration of immigrants coming into Canada." Carens identified the study as a common but low-priority occurrence and noted that its main interest had to do with the issue of dual citizenship. He said that at one point there was some momentum for abolishing "Canada's traditional openness to dual citizenship," but that ultimately no such measure was supported.

Carens also expressed his belief that there is probably a great deal more agreement than disagreement between Fonte and himself on this issue. Fonte, however, responded that they would disagree on the issue of dual citizenship, and Carens concurred. Fonte expressed further disagreement by likening the concept of a person's automatically acquiring the right to citizenship as a result of having remained in a country for a certain period to "common law marriage. You don't actually have to make a commitment. You don't take an oath. You don't formally become an American citizen." The society Carens presented, Fonte maintained, "is not the American democratic republic. I wouldn't be interested in defending the society he's talking about. Is anybody going to die for the EU [European Union], by the way, these days?" he concluded.

Daryl Scott, of the University of Florida, wondered why neither panelist addressed what he called the "flip side of citizenship," which is, "What should a citizen get from his or her country?" He also asked Fonte to elaborate on his notion of patriotic assimilation.

A number of conference participants spoke up to suggest that what newcomers to America receive in return for citizenship are freedoms, economic opportunity, and democratic rule uncommon in most other areas of the world. To address Scott's question regarding patriotic assimilation, Fonte characterized it as a "we or they," proposition, meaning, do immigrants look upon American ancestors as their own, or as a distinctly unrelated group?

Harvard's Samuel Huntington directed an inquiry to Carens about the distinction between legal permanent residents and citizens. He claimed that an individual who has resided in the U.S. 10 or 15 years but has not acquired citizenship "is making a choice not to become a citizen," and that such people are saying that they "don't want to be fully American." This suggested to Huntington a distinction between rights established for permanent residents versus ones for citizens.

Carens suggested that "there are good reasons why people choose not to become citizens," but when he offered the example of their having to renounce their previous allegiance with the taking of the oath, Huntington responded, "That reinforces my point." Carens then clarified his position. He suggested that the retention of prior allegiances affords individuals from some countries very important rights, such as the right to inherit a family home, to own property, to work even the right to speak freely.

Fonte broke in. He cited a paper written by Carens that advocated admitting anyone who wanted into the U.S. as an immigrant. Such a position, Fonte suggested, is tantamount to saying that America doesn't have the right to self-determination, to determining who is allowed entry. ""Essentially what you're saying," Fonte asserted, is that "the American civic regime doesn't have the moral right to reproduce itself. If you have no control over immigration, over borders, over who becomes a member," he added, "then, essentially, you're saying that this regime does not have the moral right to reproduce itself."

Carens acknowledged his advocacy for open borders immigration, but he said that argument is separate and distinct from the discussion of citizenship and the rights of legal, permanent residents.

Karl Zinsmeister of the American Enterprise Institute was provoked to take issue with Carens with respect to the threat posed by immigration to the United States; he suggested that the flow of migration to the U.S. was comparatively unique. He added the testimony of his own experience with Canada and how it is different from the U.S. in this regard. But he claimed that if the U.S. is not allowed notable control over its entrants, then "the American nation has pretty much given up the right to control the course of its own evolution." He noted that this is something not even the Europeans nations have been willing to do. In Germany, he said, "You cannot name your children non-Germanic names... In France the insistence on speaking French is very, very strong much stronger than insistence on English here... No coherent nation has ever had this completely laissez-faire attitude toward its members that you're suggesting we should adopt."

Carens responded by again clarifying that his discussion was restricted to those immigrants lawfully admitted. He was particularly concerned about newcomers who have established community ties by most measures but nonetheless come to feel marginalized by being denied rights afforded to citizens.

Zinsmeister then pressed Carens on access to specific rights. Should residents in the U.S. who have been here 5 to 10 years, he asked:

  • be able to vote?

  • be able to bring over any family members

  • be allowed to have complete access to public education at the college level?

  • be allowed to have their cataracts fixed and paid for by Medicare?

Referring to his earlier response to Huntington, Carens reminded participants that he supported the distinction between citizens and non-citizens with regard to voting rights, but he also identified the U.S. as being "behind the rest of the world" with respect to family reunification for non-citizens. He further argued for non-citizens' access to Medicare by virtue of their paying taxes during their residence in the United States.

Gary Gerst of the Midwest Coalition to Reform Immigration suggested that the entire premise of the conference and of the opening panel's topic was a reflection merely of the size and scope of today's immigration to the U.S. He suggested that Carens could be "very casual" about his position because its implications aren't felt from year to year, as with so many other policies. Choosing to follow Fonte's course versus Carens' over the next 10, 15, or 20 years, he said, would result in having "a very different place. And, I would say, in the one case you're still going to have a nation, and, in the other case, you're no longer going to have a nation."

Carens responded by acknowledging that the size of immigration is "salient" to the discussion, but noted that he formulated his paper without respect to levels of immigration.

Peter Skerry of Claremont McKenna College questioned Fonte with respect to the issue of group consciousness. He asked him what context of group consciousness is antithetical to the American proposition. Also, when is group consciousness "consonant with" the proposition or antithetical to it? And finally, has that changed over time?

Fonte alluded to one of Skerry's published works in his response, in which Skerry cited the example of Latino and Asian students arriving at campuses such as Berkeley and Stanford, having done so as self-described Americans, then experiencing higher education's emphasis on race, ethnicity, and gender. This is an emphasis, Fonte suggested, that is a "counter ideology to the American proposition, [an emphasis that suggests] that America is essentially evil or at least problematic, and that your loyalty should go to the group."

The Obligations of the Past Versus the Present

Peter Spiro of Hofstra University raised the issue of English proficiency for immigrants, particularly with respect to older immigrants and those who speak non-Western languages. He identified their attempts to master English as a "formidable obstacle," and asked, "Is it morally right to deny that person the opportunity to belong, as well as deny that person, perhaps, some important benefits that might go with citizenship?" He said that in addressing this question one had to examine the "obligations of citizenship." The session, he noted, had focused much of its discussion on immigrants' rights, and, he added, "Rights, I think, naturally should be tied in some way to obligations... and when it comes to obligations, citizenship really makes no difference at all any longer."

Spiro raised the possibility that the historical association of citizenship with military service was just that, history. "It doesn't seem plausible" he said, "that we're going to be asking that of our citizens in the future, at least not on a required basis, as opposed to a volunteer basis." He added, "There's only one obligation of citizenship now, and that's jury duty, which some might consider actually to be a right." He suggested that the session had offered serious discussion about changing the rights of citizenship, while offering no serious discussion about changing the obligations of citizenship. "It would be interesting as a proposition to say that aliens don't have to pay taxes, but I don't hear anybody seriously proposing that," he said.

Spiro then suggested that a strong argument could be made for aliens being afforded the right to vote "at least in local elections, where their tax dollars are being put to work and they are affected as much as their citizen neighbors by things like school policy, and sewers, and police, and the other facts of physical life." He postulated that when all is said and done, "rights don't make much of a difference between citizenship and non-citizenship and obligations don't make much of a difference." In the future, he added, we may well determine that citizenship means "a lot less . . . just as a matter of historical change."

He concluded by suggesting that "irresistible forces of change" would subsume "the American ideal as a moral value.

There was a time in human history when there was no America, and there will be a time in the future when there won't be an America," Spiro claimed. The "moral necessity of America," he said, "escapes me."

Fonte responded by referencing Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. In Federalist One, Fonte noted, Hamilton wrote, "The whole purpose of the American regime is to see whether human beings by reason can get together rather than simply force our actions." Hamilton, Fonte claimed, was arguing against determinism, which he identified as Peter Spiro's assumption about America. "Peter raised the ultimate question," Fonte concluded, "determinism versus democracy."

Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute suggested that one's position on what America represented in its history be it America as the perpetrator of "genocide against Indians" or, instead, what Abraham Lincoln identified as "the last best hope of mankind"--would determine one's outlook on the question of citizenship and related issues. Those who saw America as an oppressor, he suggested, were "almost certain to take Joe Carens' position on citizenship," while subscribers to Lincoln's view would adopt John Fonte's.

He also shared the view that the experience of shame felt by an immigrant is relatively common prior to becoming fully acclimated to his or her new country, and that this is actually helpful to the assimilation process. He cited the shame felt by his father as Jewish immigrant in New York public schools, carrying a heavy Yiddish accent. This is the same story told by Norman Podhoretz in his new book, Horowitz said. The experience of being confirmed as an outsider ushered in or hastened their fathers interest in fully assimilating into the new culture.

Carens responded to Horowitz by saying that he subscribes to both interpretations of America, as both a great and not-so-great place. "It seems to me there's something wrong with an education that doesn't have the capacity to hold those two things together," he remarked. Carens did acknowledge the viability of Horowitz's claim that immigrants need to endure a kind of "transformation," and yet he also expressed concern about it. He cited the example of what he sees daily on the streets of Toronto a multiplicity of cultures seemingly co-existing in schools and elsewhere perfectly well. As he examined this point further, he labeled what Horowitz had described "an acute embarrassment."

Robert Pickus, chairman of the James Madison Foundation, claimed that there has never been a time of greater importance for American citizenship throughout the world. An America "that remembers who it is," he said, "is the best possible resource God could have given us." He claimed that Fonte "raised the right questions," namely, are there propositions that "define American citizenship that are (A) true, (B), worthy of faith and allegiance, and, [if so] have they been abandoned?" He noted that immigrants stand alongside only the Army in being asked to pledge "true faith and allegiance."

571 Million Americans?

Next, Newsday's Jim Pinkerton asked the panelists their thoughts on what the Census Bureau's forecast of an America with 571 million people living in it, in the year 2100, would look like.

Fonte responded that the types of questions he asked with respect to assimilation were intimately linked with U.S. immigration policy. He claimed that an immigration policy based on U.S. national interests, "combined with assimilation," would afford the United States the opportunity to fulfill the question asked of Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention: "What kind of government did you create?" Franklin answered that it was a republic, or a constitutional democracy. But Fonte added that a continuation of current immigration policy, one that is not clear, would result in what he termed a "post-national, a new type of regime."

"We could have a new hybrid of transnational regime," he said. "It's really no longer the United States in any serious sense. I hope that doesn't happen. I think if we can get immigration, assimilation, and national interest right, we can prevent that."

Carens responded by expressing skepticism toward the Census Bureau projections. He noted that not only is a 100-year projection open to question, but that in the past the bureau had erred in its projections. He saw no likelihood, he said, of the U.S. "becoming post-liberal, or post-constitutional, or post-democratic."

He reiterated that the level of immigration matters, but added that he perceived a lot of "rhetoric" surrounding the discussion of immigration to the U.S. in the future. He concluded by asserting that the model for assimilating immigrants of 50 years ago, which he characterized as compulsory, is, if not impossible today, at least "undesirable."


Stephen Steinlight, of the American Jewish Committee, opened the panel discussion by suggesting that the collective experience of Jewish-Americans is remarkably similar to the experience of today's immigrants. He noted that for decades American Jews expressed and identified themselves with precisely the same "dual" sensibilities for which so many of today's immigrants are criticized. "Hadn't all of us grown up in the culture of Jewish summer camps, Hebrew schools, and associations?" he asked. "In all of those settings, we regularly saluted a foreign flag, sang the foreign national anthem, other than the American, spoke in a foreign tongue... and were so accustomed to hearing our existential situation described in the language of diaspora and exile that we almost ceased noticing it."

He noted that today large numbers of Jewish Americans are obsessed with "continuity," are in a "near panic about group survival, which is spawning support for Jewish parochial schools, Israel experiences, and a host of other activities that my colleagues would undoubtedly lament as dangerously separatist if they saw it in others." He asserted that Jewish-Americans, "with our simultaneous, passionate embrace of America and terror about assimilation," are "right in the thick of it."

Immigration and Social Cohesion

Stanley Renshon began his presentation by reciting some statistics about immigrants. He noted that 16 of the top 20 immigrant-sending countries between 1994 and 1998 allowed some form of multiple citizenship. Of the more than 22 million immigrants who arrived in the U.S. between 1961 and 1997, he said, nearly 75 percent came from dual- or multiple-citizenship-allowing countries.

"The basic data are pretty insurmountable," Renshon said. "They're here in huge numbers. They will continue to come in large numbers, and we will increasingly have a vast and expanding pool of people who'll have multiple citizenships."

So what? he asked.

In answer, Renshon laid out what he described as the problem of multiple loyalties and identities. He claimed that "liberal political theorists and their allies," when it comes to identity, "subscribe to the 'why not one more?' theory." He said that this view is underpinned by a "basic fallacy"--that core identity elements "are infinitely malleable."

"They are not," Renshon declared.

Second, he said, these advocates hold that all identifications have equal weight.

"They do not," he insisted.

Though Renshon noted that dual citizenship is often compared to bigamy, he suggested that marriage of any type, because it is a voluntary union between two adults, is not the correct analogy to national identity. Nationality, he said, "begins with the earliest experiences of language, family custom, and parental psychology." Nationality and national identity, therefore, are more like family life than married life.

Renshon asserted that any discussion of the plausibility of holding two or more "divergent core national identities" ought to first take stock of what is comprised in developing and maintaining "a coherent and integrated one." Specifically, he suggested that personal and national identity function to support "the cultural and political arrangements" that underlie "this fabulous experiment, America."

Renshon identified as a problem in contemporary America what he called "social cohesion." He suggested that there is little disagreement that national culture and identity are changing. "The question is," he said, "is it changing for better or worse?"

The notion of a unified American culture, he claimed, has been replaced by "a series of overlapping cultures."

"We have a culture of narcissism that essentially asks 'What's in it for me?' and 'How can I best get what I want out of life?'" he said. According to Renshon, an ethos of grievance and complaint has taken hold among many people in the United States, and this mindset runs "counter to the historical and psychologically deeply embedded connection between the intensity, consistency, and quality of one's efforts to achieve one's ambition and the possibilities of doing so."

It is within this context, he said, that demands for multiple citizenship arise. Becoming an American, Renshon said, "is not simply a matter of agreeing that democracy is the best form of government, it is a commitment to a psychology and a way of life that flows from it. And ultimately it entails, in my view, an appreciation of, a commitment to, and yes even a love and reverence for all that it stands for and provides."

Renshon identified a set of competing and mutually exclusive forms of patriotism: As if and Even though patriotism. "As if patriotism looks at the United States and what it's accomplished as a form of a sham a hoax, in a sense perpetrated on people who haven't had an opportunity to really make their way," he said. Renshon himself favors a patriotism he described as embodied by the philosophy of "Even though the United States has no doubted erred in the past and will continue to do so in the future, it still remains, on balance, a pretty terrific place to be."

Renshon concluded his remarks by citing four considerations he thought should be used to shape and guide U.S. policy with respect to dual citizenship:

  • No voting in foreign elections if one is a U.S. citizen

  • No uniformed service for dual citizens in America

  • No policymaking roles for dual citizens in America

Children of dual-citizenship parents must make a choice at age 18 as to whether they want to be fully American and become citizens or instead retain "rights, obligations, and associations with another country"

The process of asking individuals "to make a commitment," Renshon said, is very important, adding, "the psychology of commitment is very clear. When you ask people to do something, they become invested in it and they have more of a commitment."

Dual Citizenship? Not a Problem

Peter Spiro began by noting that the occurrence of dual citizenship is "dramatically on the rise" and that it will continue to be so in the years ahead. He claimed as well that this fact fails to create "any serious difficulties."

He suggested that metaphors offer little clarification of questions involving dual citizenship, but with respect to Renshon's attempt, he saw some salience in likening it to the associations a married couple has with its in-laws. We are born into one set of parents, he noted, but marriage introduces us to another set; indeed, a married couple is "adopted" by this set, and sometimes this new set has "very different values."

Spiro said that modern forms of communication such as the Internet allow individuals to remain current on happenings abroad, with the "politics of a place." American culture has also been exported successfully to virtually all parts of the globe, he pointed out a globalization of both the political and cultural notion of "what has been American."

He also suggested that the "global triumph of democracy" ought to mitigate many concerns over an individual's maintaining an interest in different forms of government. "There is one dominant political culture now at the global level, and so we don't have the difficulty of having to follow two very different political traditions," he said. Additionally, Spiro claimed that in the post-Cold-War world national interests are unlike to collide directly.

The conflicts an individual may experience between core identity and attachment, he acknowledged, do exist, but may be assuaged. He cited as an example the tensions individuals often experience between the pulls of national identity and their religious conviction.

Spiro then laid out what he saw as the benefits of dual nationality, from the perspectives of individuals and of national interest. For the individual, he said, there is the benefit of "free association," of "being allowed to express one's identity with a particular community." He suggested that such an association fell under the domain of "an individual right." With respect to national interest, he claimed that dual citizenship aided this by facilitating assimilation. The failure to offer dual citizenship, he said, "becomes a deterrent to naturalization." He also suggested that dual nationality would further the goal of expanding U.S. efforts to advance the cause of democracy. "One can look at dual nationals as democratizing agents in their country of nationality," he said.

He concluded his remarks by affirming that the "explosion" of dual nationality carries "important consequences for the meaning of citizenship."

"It clearly does, and it clearly indicates a diminished significance to citizenship," Spiro said. "But I would hold out that that's just a fact, and it's something that can't be changed, and that it's something we should be grappling with now rather than trying to fight."

Issues of Multiple Citizenship

Steve Sailer asked the panelists to consider a referendum on the clause in the oath of citizenship pledging renunciation of prior allegiances. "How have we got to the point where people are lying and breaking their oath without ever having any discussion on this in the general public?" he asked.

Spiro responded by suggesting first that there are "extremely strong" arguments "for abandoning the renunciation altogether," and that the American public by and large cares little for it, or at least are not expressing any outward concern over it.

Renshon responded by noting that his interest in this subject evolved out of his research on leadership, and he shared the view that "courageous leadership" is especially important in a country confronting "large questions arising out of diversity." He claimed that American leaders have been "increasingly fearful of broaching these subjects in a direct way and really asking for people to talk candidly about them."

He cited President Clinton's race initiative as an example. "God knows we need a frank discussion about race, diversity, and ethnicity and what it means to be in this country," he said, "but that's not what we had in that particular discussion."

Michael Horowitz suggested that the trend in support of multiple citizenships was leading to "complete absurdities," adding as an example that he saw an individual's holding an elected office in a foreign land as philosophically problematic. Spiro agreed with him on the latter point.

Horowitz then noted that the lack of public discourse on the matter was a result of a Supreme Court decision one he termed "jurisprudentially indefensible"--that found it unconstitutional for Congress to regulate the citizenship of those who vote in another country's election. Spiro offered a clarification of the Supreme Court ruling: The court, he said, ruled it unconstitutional to deny an American-born citizen who naturalizes in another country the full privileges of his or her American citizenship as a result.

Steinlight offered the model of citizenship as a "contract that people make" with others in their society that "essentially says that we are going to stick together for better or for worse." He said that a system that allowed for opting in and opting out of citizenship out of convenience renders the members of the society unaccountable. Shouldn't we hold people to a contract of societal obligations once they've sworn an oath of allegiance, he asked?

Spiro responded by alluding to one attack frequently made against the concept of dual citizenship that it represents "a hedged bet on becoming an American," and that individuals will always be free to leave and return. He suggested that what dual citizenship means instead is retaining a commitment to another country in a way that poses no threat to the American national interest.

Renshon responded by noting that the number of people now residing in the U.S. eligible for dual citizenship establishes a notably different set of circumstances for assessing dual citizenship's impact, as compared to earlier periods. Issues are just now emerging, he said, and will continue to in the years ahead.

Karl Zinsmeister raised the notion that dual citizenship is problematic symbolically, but that symbolic power carries great effect. He alluded to Renshon's discussion of the psychology of commitment and suggested that dual citizenship represented "the disappearance of loyalty." He claimed that Americans feel a responsibility for fellow citizens "in whom they have no personal interest," and he called this responsibility part of the American "social contract," an "ideal and commitment to each other." This is an intangible quality, he admitted, and yet one "terribly important to our national success, and it's very much threatened by these symbolic things." He attributed the enthusiasm for dual citizenship to the pursuit of "individual self-maximization" and "the rise of personal autonomy at the expense of wider, larger loyalty."

Spiro responded by noting the conflict faced by Japanese-Americans, who were American citizens, at the advent of World War II, and he suggested that the dual citizenship issue is "bogged down in notions of loyalty and allegiance."

Robert Pickus reminded participants that the "most moving" aspect of "any immigrant's experience" is the swearing-in ceremony. "The room shakes with feeling," he said. He also suggested that the scope of immigration to the U.S. will eventually force the dual-citizenship issue into the consciousness of Americans. With respect to the issue of allegiance in a time of war, he added that a multiplicity of nationalities and loyalties would not make for less war but rather "more chaos." He called the issue of dual citizenship a "bellwether" issue, "capable of doing great harm."

Renshon contended that many issues often debated about immigration, such as bilingual education, are "subsumed" under the larger question of where one's identification and loyalty are, which is at the heart of the dual-citizenship debate. "Frankly, I have a lot of trouble with why it is so hard for people to ask of people who come to our country and partake of all the things that it has to offer, to ask of them in return that they make really rather minimal steps along the line of commitment, which, hopefully, over time, would become more consolidated."

Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), reminded participants that 27 million foreign born currently reside in the U.S., and he noted that were this figure not nearly so high, the debates and problems surrounding dual citizenship "would increasingly fade away." He claimed, too, that dual citizenship "in a sense, sends the message that you're not a real American, [that] you're one of those pretend Americans, and that's a very dangerous development in a society like ours that is so heterogeneous."

Carens responded to these points by noting that many nations address dual citizenship by recognizing a "dominant citizenship" and a "dormant citizenship," the latter applying to the country from which an individual emigrated. A dormant citizenship could be "reactivated," he said, but only upon return to that country. He also noted the historical trend of citizenship's being conferred through fathers and therefore having considerable gender bias.

Renshon and Spiro offered summary responses that concluded the session. Renshon claimed that he was advocating the naturalization of individuals who seek to live in the United States "for a particular set of reasons." In return for citizenship, the United States would ask of them, he said, some level of commitment for instance, learning English. Newcomers would also be asked to learn the U.S. "experience" he said, and to "think about the ways in which their experience dovetails with our experience."

"All of those things are meant to make them feel more like they're a part of us," he added.

Renshon also noted that since so many Americans, even college-educated ones, have difficulty in identifying the myriad issues involved in American politics, could we plausibly expect people adhering to two cultures to do so? He called such a notion "cognitively not feasible."

Spiro concluded by stating that he thinks America should "desacralize" its notion of citizenship. To that end, he suggested that America ought to think of itself as a "membership organization," and that in the future the nation was likely to see robust challenges "in terms of maintaining the commitment of its members." Part of maintaining the commitment of America's members in the future, he suggested, would include "lowering the cost of initial membership."


Though Peter Skerry said the short answer to the question of whether immigration from Mexico is a special case may be yes, he added that behind this lies a more important question: "What is the political significance of this Mexican exceptionalism?"

He then proceeded to cite evidence of how Mexican immigration is a special case, but "with an eye to demonstrating that on balance none of the at times troubling evidence about Mexican exceptionalism looms as large as the influences of our own political culture and institutions on Mexican immigrants and their offspring."

Skerry noted first that today's immigrant stream is "much less diverse" than the last great wave of immigration a century ago. About 28 to 30 percent of the current immigrant population is Mexican; adding immigrants from other Spanish-speaking countries who are often identified as Hispanics or Latinos brings the total of Spanish-speaking immigrants up to approximately 50 percent of the total.

Acknowledging that almost 40 percent of America's illegal aliens are from Mexico, Skerry pointed out that while this fuels the perception that most Mexicans are illegals, this is not the case. Nor is Mexico by any means the only source of illegal immigration; nearly half of all illegals in the U.S. are visa overstayers, of whom just over 20 percent are Mexican. He added that these misconceptions contribute to a "Mexican myopia which is our preoccupation, perhaps even our obsession, with our southern border."

Mexicans also are concentrated in America's Southwest, a region, Skerry pointed out that was once part of their homeland, which puts them in a very distinctive situation from other immigrants to America." There remain in the Southwest remnants of Mexican heritage, ranging from place names, to the style of architecture, to its ranching culture. Skerry also noted that in the middle of the 19th century, Mexico lost half its land to the U.S. Consequently, "Mexican and Mexican-origin individuals are continually reminded that the region was once part of Mexico," he said.

"In some fundamental sense," he added, "this is indigenous territory for Mexicans."

Skerry's research has led him to observe that among Mexican and Mexican-origin individuals there is a sense of being "a conquered people... especially in Texas." Though some Chicanos, he said, "make too much of this historical awareness," Anglo-Americans, conversely, sometimes make too little of it.

Skerry also traced the history of formal U.S. immigration policy with respect to Mexico. The quota system implemented in 1924, he noted, applied only to Europe and Asia. Mexicans and immigrants from other Western hemisphere countries did not become subject to quantitative restrictions until 1968, and even then U.S. employers were exempted from any penalties for hiring illegal immigrants a good example of how American immigration policy has served the national interest--especially this country's economic interests.

Though the naturalization rate of Mexican immigrants is low, it is not all that different from the rate for Canadians, leading Skerry to speculate that proximity to the U.S. may have an effect. More important, he stated, is the fact that "I don't see evidence of divided loyalties among Mexicans in the United States."

Skerry also stressed that though Americans may perceive issues such as bilingual education, affirmative action, and voting rights advanced on behalf of Mexican-Americans as divisive, none of the serious policies advocated by Mexican-American organizations and leaders translate into territorial or separatist claims. He suggested that such advocacy seeks not to divide Mexican-Americans from their new countrymen, but rather reflects "the fundamental Mexican-American desire for inclusion into the mainstream of American society," a view that he said was perhaps distinct from Huntington's position in his keynote address.

Skerry concluded his remarks by claiming that the initiatives of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. today "reflect the lessons and the incentives of contemporary American political institutions that they are trying to adapt to and are adapting to, albeit in ways that I acknowledge are divisive and often counterproductive." But such strategies, he added, "reflect American political dynamics, not the unique situation of Mexican-American relations."

Mexican Immigrants: Similarities and Differences

Manuel Garcia y Griego placed his discussion of Mexicans as a special immigrant group within the context of examining this group at different points in the 20th century. He identified Mexican immigrants as "quite different" from a majority of the European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically because of their "manner of incorporation" into the U.S. and the "context of their reception." Conversely, he suggested that Mexican immigrants are "quite similar to the European flow" in their "motivation for migration and in their aspirations for life in the United States."

He identified the act of migration as "very much a self-interest and market-motivated kind of phenomenon," one characterizing European immigrants as much as Mexicans.

Garcia y Griego asserted that the similarities and differences between Mexican immigrants and other ethnic immigrant groups have produced a duality of outcomes, which he termed "a bimodal pattern of incorporation outcomes." One outcome, he noted, is that there is a widespread "lament" about the deficit in educational and socioeconomic achievement for Mexican immigrants and second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans as well. And yet these newcomers, he noted, share many values and political philosophies with their new countrymen; he specifically identified polls citing Mexican-American positions on abortion and even immigration controls. "Mexican-Americans, in some significant ways, mirror the native-born population," he said.

It is not unusual, Garcia y Griego, said, for him to attend a meeting of a Mexican-American organization and hear reference to the number of Mexican-American Congressional Medal of Honor winners or the number of Mexican-Americans serving in the armed forces of the United States. But at the same time, he acknowledged, Mexican immigrants have among the lowest naturalization rates of any ethnic group.

He then identified five themes that fall within his two larger points about the distinctions between Mexican and non-Mexican immigrants:

  • Illegal entry, as a "preeminent mode of arrival," is perhaps a "defining characteristic" of Mexican immigration to the United States. "Even most legal immigrants from Mexico first came illegally," Garcia y Griego said. "The only way many Mexican immigrants could obtain legal admission [early in the 20th century] was to first enter illegally, acquire a job, and then petition for legal status."

  • Mexican legal immigration "has come to be equated with a labor migration... with a flow of workers, of unskilled workers, into a particular set of industries and particular kinds of occupations farm work, sweatshops, entry-level service jobs." Earlier immigrants from Europe also entered into low-paying jobs, he noted, but in relation to today's American economy, the discrepancy in Mexicans wages and conditions is significant.

  • There has been and remains a sense that Mexican migration into the U.S. is temporary, rather than a resettlement. Much of this is a result of the fact that so many of the immigrants are illegal. A low-skilled, low-educated migration widely thought to locate in the U.S. only temporarily understandably retards assimilation, Garcia y Griego said.

  • Second- and third-generation Mexican-American organizations "have adopted as their principal goal the successful incorporation or re-assimilation of their population in the United States."

  • Mexicans are among both the oldest and the newest of immigrant flows into the U.S. "Large-scale, illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico is recorded in the 1940s and early 1950s," he pointed out. The formation of the Border Patrol in the 1920s also reflects this fact.

  • Garcia y Griego reminded participants that Mexicans are "to a great extent, like other non-Europeans, only more so." The post-1965 immigrant flow, most of it originating in Latin America and Asia, he said, "has come in both at the top and at the bottom of the socioeconomic status scale."

The Mexican Case

Martin Ford of the Maryland Office for New Americans questioned the accuracy of Skerry's claim that today's immigrant flow lacks diversity compared to preceding ones. He suggested that while California and Texas certainly receive disproportionately large flows of Mexican immigrants, other states with heavy immigration, such as New York, New Jersey, Florida, and perhaps Illinois, receive a truly diverse range of immigrants. Skerry pointed out that his claims were echoed in Huntington's keynote remarks and also by prominent researchers, including George Borjas and Arthur Mann. He also noted that in assessing the ethnic composition of an immigrant flow, a premium must be placed on a examining a finite period of time. Mexicans represent nearly 30 percent of today's flow, which is double the percentage of Germans immigrating to the U.S. between 1870 and 1920, when they were the largest immigrant group.

Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer asked both panelists to address the more controversial implications of the session's topic for instance, American citizens or legal residents voting in a foreign election or serving in the armed forces of a foreign nation. Garcia y Gregio responded that Mexican authorities would be as troubled by such voting as she is and that the Mexican government "makes a distinction between nationality and citizenship" that does not allow for Mexicans to be citizens in both countries. Skerry responded by claiming that assimilation by Mexicans is "ongoing," and that while he does share some of Geyer's concerns, he does not find them to be "at the center" of this debate. Instead, he would like to see the "terms of assimilation" addressed. Geyer's concerns, in comparison, he said, were "very much down the road."

Peter Spiro wondered if the per-country cap on immigration visas, which range between 20,000 and 25,000 annually, isn't exacerbating lack of diversity by encouraging illegal immigration from Mexico. He asked whether we should therefore be addressing our concern to illegal immigration.

Mark Krikorian interjected to remind participants that the per-country caps do not apply to immediate relatives or certain other immigration categories. The caps, he said, "really restrain no one, that's why Mexico has such a higher number than 20,000 [legal immigrants each year]." Krikorian then asked the panel to consider whether the size of the Mexican immigrant population in the U.S., organized to a large degree in effective advocacy groups, had a notably "problematic impact" on multicultural America.

Skerry acknowledged that Mexican-American leaders and organizations had no interest in "regulating or restricting the flow of immigration from Mexico at all, because it enlarges their constituency." But earlier Mexican-American leaders were comparatively receptive to advocating restrictions on immigration from Mexico, he said, because these leaders had stronger ties to "a much more vibrant labor movement." Large numbers of immigrants from Mexico were difficult to organize, "destabilizing" the institutions these leaders represented, he claimed.

Samuel Huntington offered some clarification of the remarks he had made in his keynote address. He reiterated that he does not advocate having a fence erected along the border with Mexico only because, however, "it wouldn't work." He added that any exploration of immigration from Mexico must be approached within the context of overall U.S. relations with that country. Finally, he offered enthusiastic endorsement of Skerry's remarks about the "crucial role" that "American politics, political institutions, and post-1965 American politics and institutions play in shaping" immigration policy today. "The environment of this country is so very, very different now than it was when we had other large-scale immigration," he concluded.

Steve Sailer claimed that the white ruling class in Mexico has for a long while viewed immigration as a "safety valve" to prevent race riots as well as wars within Mexico. He also suggested that Mexican presidents likely view the migration of the poorest Mexicans out of the country as a legitimate economic strategy. He said that the outgoing PRI president discussed openly the formation of a "dual loyalty lobby within the United States" modeled after the Jewish lobby for Israel. Such a lobby, he said, would push for even more immigration from Mexico.

Sailer then laid out a scenario in which newly elected presidents George W. Bush and Vincente Fox convene a summit in which some stark policies are brokered. Bush would reject Fox's call for open borders, Sailer suggested, but agree to calls for an increase in legal immigration quotas. For his part, Fox would pledge to "cut down on illegal immigration," which, Sailer noted, "I imagine will be just as effective as Mexico's cutting down on the drug trade."

John Fonte followed these remarks by "pressing" Peter Spiro on the issue of assimilation. He claimed that in bilingual education classes students often are using Mexican textbooks, being instructed by Mexican teachers, and occasionally the Mexican flag is raised in the classrooms. He suggested that the combination of multiculturalism with dual citizenship and dual nationality leads to a "transnational regime."

Robert Leiken of the Brookings Institute responded by noting that while Mexican textbooks are shipped to America in large numbers, they are not used as "basic texts" in American schools. He claimed that the scenario sketched by Fonte was far more a "caricature" of schools than an accurate reflection. Ron Unz, chairman of English for the Children, followed by observing that there is some anecdotal accuracy to Fonte's claims, but that they are not representative.

Toward the end of the session, Horowitz offered a picture of the evolution of the American political landscape after some decades of mass immigration. He noted that at present there are jurisdictions in which a Republican candidate who wins just 15 percent of the black vote necessarily wins the election. Conversely, a Democratic candidate, he said, who wins 35 percent of the white vote similarly wins. In the years ahead, he suggested, a Republican candidate is likely to find himself in an election in which even winning 20 percent of the non-white vote won't be enough. "And here's where we get to the evil," he said. "Sam Huntington says there won't be fences built around the United States. I'm not so sure. If we get to the point where there's the white party and there's the party of color and all you need is a handful of people on the other side and you win elections, we've got a very different country and we've got tensions of the sort Georgie Anne Geyer is talking about," he added.

Horowitz also noted the disparity in rhetoric he sees between the civil rights movement of the 1960s, during which he served as a civil rights law professor in Mississippi, and that characterizing the politics of today. The individual rights championed in the 1960s, he said, have given way to the group rights and grievances of today.

Joseph Carens responded to these concerns by acknowledging that probably most participants at the conference would agree that "multiculturalism and group rights" do not offer solutions to the problems faced by ethnic communities. But on some level, he claimed, there does have to be "group consciousness" the words of Peter Skerry, he noted in order to begin the process of identifying and thinking through the problems constituencies face.

Susan Gzesh, director of the Mexico-U.S. Advocates Network, noted the "tremendous acceleration in the economic, social, and cultural integration of the United States and Mexico." She asked, presented with evidence that 10 percent of Mexico's population now lives in the U.S., and a third of that in illegal status, "What are we going to do about it?"

"Expulsion is impossible...fences don't work," she added, and, therefore, "How do we incorporate people into our political spectrum?" She asked participants to share with her their ideas for devising a "two-track system" in which "we have an economic, social, and cultural reality and the legal regime, which doesn't really seem to accord with that."

Finally, Peter Skerry spoke to respond to Michael Horowitz's points about the future of racial and ethnic politics. He said he shared Horowitz's concerns about the formation of a white party and a non-white party. But he criticized Horowitz's insistence on drawing a firm distinction between the immigrants of the past who expressed "gratitude" for their experience and today's, who, Horowitz claimed, seem often to express "grievance." This distinction, Skerry claimed, "Can't co-exist in the same political thrust," or else "you're going to create such a white party."


Charles Bahmueller opened his remarks by addressing the issue of whether or not history and civic education should be changed or discarded. He shared with participants the principle he adheres to, namely, that "American democracy is membership in the political association that establishes and operates the American political system." He added that the individual American citizen is "the center in the foundation of the system."

He also took issue with the argument made by panelists and participants supportive of equality of status between citizens and non-citizens: "Just because citizens and non-citizens in the United States share many of the same rights, the idea that they're almost identical is an illusion. Resident aliens are not almost citizens. They're qualitatively different. It's not the quantity of rights that should be compared, but the qualitative difference of those rights."

Bahmueller claimed that America's political association is premised on the idea of "popular sovereignty," and that the "sovereign American people" are constituted by "the whole body of American citizens and only citizens." It is the notion of citizens being sovereign, he added, that leads to the conclusion that, collectively, "citizenship is the highest office in the land." Citizens within a liberal democracy, he stated, can be said "to own their government."

"They set it up. They can change it," he asserted.

As is true of other associations, the American people are empowered to craft rules about adding members according to Bahmueller. This process of adding members is "fundamental to the democratic process," he added. When citizens lose control over the system that adds new members, American democracy becomes "gibberish." The naturalization process, he pointed out, is the mechanism by which Americans decide who will and who will not be added as new citizens.

Bahmueller maintained that a prerequisite for any "fundamental changes" to the naturalization process is the "widespread" consent of the American people. In lieu of that, he cited what he called the "cattle chute" theory of democracy. In it, "you round up herds of people, brand them citizens as fast as humanly possible, get your friends to run the herds through the voting turnstiles like cattle through chutes, and trust that most of them will vote the way you want them to."

"This is the disgraceful procedure that went on in 1996," he added, "and it means that those responsible don't take democracy seriously. What they take seriously is winning elections."

The overriding principle that ought to govern naturalization, he said, is the conception of "binding prospective citizens to their new country." This involves informing the applicant of:

  • what it means to be an American;

  • who we are and where we came from;

  • our demand of a commitment to the U.S. Constitution,and a commitment to the "value and principles of liberal democracy."

The purpose of naturalization, he said, is to "Americanize" immigrants, which means putting them through "a process of civic assimilation." The argument that other countries have no such concern for civic education is irrelevant, Bahmueller said; the United States has such an interest, and has had it for a long time.

One commonly heard argument against the civic education of immigrants is the poor level of knowledge of such history by natives, particularly young Americans. "What this argument amounts to," Bahmueller asserted, "is the view that since we do such a lousy job at giving a civic education to our youth, we should be sure that prospective citizens get an equally lousy civic education."

Bahmueller shifted his focus to the history and civics test taken by those seeking naturalization. In his opinion, the existing test is "practically meaningless." He read aloud some of the 100 questions asked on the exam:

  • What are the colors of the flag?

  • How many stars are in our flag?

  • What are the colors of the stars in our flag?

  • What do the stars in our flag mean?

He also identified the "omega" question in the exam: "How many states are there in the United States?"

"I think this test is a national disgrace," Bahmueller said. "It belittle and trivializes the richness of the American experience." He asserted that the exam offers clear evidence that America does not take civic assimilation seriously and called for its rigorous overhaul, but not toward a test that would be "exclusionary."

"The kind of test I am advocating would be passed by the overwhelming majority of applicants," he said. He added that the study involved for this new test would result in the applicants' "learning something they'd get something out of it." Bahmueller cited two publications from which test material should be drawn, the Center for Civic Education's elementary textbook on the U.S. Constitution and the standards published by the National Standards for Civics and Government.

He then offered a specific example of how an existing question could be replaced and improved upon. The current exam asks test takers simply to identify the three branches of government. Bahmueller argued that understanding why the founders established three separate branches would be significantly more important than simply being able to name them.

Bahmueller concluded by making an argument for an "emotional element in citizenship." He noted that such an element cannot be compulsory, but he saw it as vital for establishing a bond between the newcomer and his or her new country.

Civic Education: An Ongoing Concern

Don Bragaw began by agreeing with Bahmueller that history and civics education should be changed. However, he then offered some historical perspective on criticism of civics understanding. A few weeks before this conference, he noted, the poor civics understanding of college freshmen made national news. He then recalled civics tests of students that Alan Nevins of Columbia University conducted every 10 years from the 1940s through the 1960s. The results?

"They knew nothing," Bragaw said.

The situation continues, he pointed out. Since 1983, similar tests have been commissioned and executed by historians, political scientists, and others every 5 or 10 years. All of them expressed "great dismay" at the results, Bragaw said. "It's not that our textbooks and our history are not good," he suggested. "We add to our history, [but] we do not make it better. Our textbooks get larger, to the point where there are now students who are going to chiropractic institutions because they can no longer carry them easily from class to class."

Echoing the concern expressed by Bahmueller regarding the trivial quality of the questions on the naturalization exam, Bragaw termed them "How To Become a Millionaire" questions. However, the sheer breadth that has become American history, he maintained, renders attempts at mastering it an "absurdity." Nor have schools and teachers changed the methodology by which students go about learning, he added.

Bragaw, too, called for a redesigned naturalization exam. Part of the new and improved exam, he suggested, would be both a visual and oral component structured around a local or national issue. The written portion of the exam, too, would derive from some issue of importance. Such a three-part naturalization test would be, he said, "a test of true civic behavior rather than getting through the notion of whether or not they've memorized a certain body of information."

How Should We Teach Immigrants about America?

Stanley Renshon asked about the likelihood that any initiative to toughen up the naturalization exam would experience the same fate as numerous other "toughening" initiatives in education. He opined that when failure rates increase, and subsequent public outcry dominates, relaxation of new standards is inevitable.

Bahmueller suggested that the price people are willing to pay to achieve citizenship likely is high enough that they would be willing to do what was asked of them in a new and toughened exam. Certainly, he said, some level of experimentation is in order, for questions such as, "What color is the flag?" cannot be allowed to continue. Bragaw reminded participants that today's standards are "strictly voluntary" and therefore amendable.

Bahmueller defended his claims of corruption associated with naturalization in the 1996 election cycle. He also noted that whereas corruption was also associated with the political machines in the 1920s and 1930s, today no such machines exist to assist immigrants beyond participation in the elections themselves.

Georgie Anne Geyer supported Bahmueller's claims about the hollowness of today's naturalization process. "There is no citizenship process in this country," she maintained. "Today the tests are absurd; usually people will only get [asked] three questions."

She pointed out that beginning in the late 1980s, citizenship preparation and testing was contracted out to private groups, "many of them ethnic lobbies."

"There's been one scandal after another," Geyer noted. "These companies are taking money from the federal government and not preparing people at all." She stated her view that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is "not here for the benefit of the immigrants; the INS is here to preserve the American polity." She concluded by suggesting that what is needed is a decision by Congress on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country.

Robert Pickus noticed that this and the other discussions during the conference reflected views or questions with respect to three constituencies; the community/political community as a group, as a nation, and "literally, [the] transnational world."

"They need to be put together," he said.

He then shared his experience as part of a task group a few years ago that addressed immigration and citizenship, which examined questions such as, "What should the INS do with respect to the naturalization exam?" He was particularly struck by the posture of an attorney representing an ethnic advocacy group who articulated the problematic aspects of America's past. She even challenged, he said, those ideas that were identified as "American," suggesting instead that they were "universal." When the task group put forward its recommendations, which Pickus characterized as bearing the assessment that America was indeed good, but that people should "participate in correcting the future," the attorney insisted on having her name removed from the recommendations out of political considerations.

He concluded his remarks by suggesting that in the face of such events, "medicine," the likes of which John Fonte proposed, is necessary and useful. "There just aren't many people giving the old medicine... the old medicine is good medicine."

Martin Ford offered his support of the assessment that the current naturalization tests are "extremely bad" and that they "trivialize the process." He also offered a clarification of the role of ethnic groups in preparing and administering naturalization exams, pointing out that they have been removed from the process altogether because of the scandals.

Alice Cottingham, executive director of the Fund for Immigrants and Refugees, informed participants that most people preparing to become U.S. citizens are adults, and since their children quite often are U.S. citizens by birth, "the locus of citizenship education is adult education [and] not children's." She noted that low-income, limited-English immigrants are those most likely to seek out publicly funded education services. Refugees, she said, comprise a sizable portion of this group. Of the naturalization exam itself, she offered that it was probably the issue on which the greatest consensus existed among conference participants. She characterized the exam as "trivialized", "meaningless for everybody involved," and "disrespectful to everyone involved."

Steve Sailer noted that the United States military has an impressive record of forging cohesion among soldiers from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. He attributed this to the military's team atmosphere. He wondered if new immigrants would benefit from a community service requirement working for an organization such as the Red Cross or doing disaster relief working alongside other immigrants and American citizens.

Bragaw responded by noting that research on community service indicates "an increased desire for civic participation."

Ron Unz wondered if the naturalization exam today wasn't in fact more rigorous than its predecessors, particularly those administered 100 years ago. Spiro responded by noting that the testing requirement was not put into place until 1952. Prior to that, he said, judges administered naturalization "as part of demonstrating or professing attachment to constitutional values," and would "sometimes engage in an interrogation of an understanding of the Constitution." Arguing that citizenship "prospered in the period before a formal testing requirement was imposed," he offered that in history one finds a compelling argument against having a test at all.

Duke University's Noah Pickus claimed that the absence of the institutions that traditionally helped in bridging the chasm between newcomers and American citizens argued for the strengthening and continuation of the naturalization exam. He took issue with Sailer's recommendation of compulsory civic service for immigrants. Because so many immigrants work multiple jobs and are deeply committed to rearing their children, he wondered about the practicality of that proposal. He noted, too, that the Jordan Commission failed to identify naturalization and "Americanization" as a "major item" among its recommendations. The failure by the U.S. government to "pony up" resources for this process, he said, is very telling.

Sailer offered that with "several hundred million people" wanting to immigrate to the United States, "it's a seller's market for us," and "we should run our immigration policy [with regard to] what's in the best interest of the general welfare of our current citizens." Immigration, he said, is not "some sort of civil right" for the foreign born, meant to be "convenient or non-imposing." Renshon echoed this immigration-in-the-national-interest sentiment.

Mark Krikorian suggested that in addition to questions on civics and history, a new and improved naturalization exam would feature questions addressing American culture. He argued that an immigrant's fluency with popular culture, for instance, "Who is Elvis?" would be indicative on some level of the immigrant's "engagement" with his new culture.

Finally, Michael Horowitz offered praise of the fruitfulness of the entire conference, and most particularly of the spirited but civil exchange among participants of distinctly differing viewpoints. "I've been to lot of conferences with some pretty emotional subjects," he said. "Somehow you've managed to draw together a group of people who know the subject and maintain an extraordinary measure of civility at the same time. I've seldom been as worked up about a subject and liked the people on the other side of the debate as much, and that's really quite wonderful."

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