Obama (Now) and Jeb Bush (Then) Spur Naturalization for Political Gain

By David North on October 22, 2015

From the early days of Tammany Hall to the present day, American political parties have sought to expand their power by making sure that aliens favorable to the party in question are encouraged and helped to become citizens and voters.

In fact, both Barrack Obama (currently) and Jeb Bush (some 30 years ago) have followed this hallowed pattern.

Obama Administration Now. I was reminded of this recently when the Department of Homeland Security announced that an applicant for citizenship may now use a credit card to pay the $595 naturalization application fee and the $85 biometrics fee (fingerprints and photo). New citizens over 75 pay nothing for the biometrics, and servicemen and women pay nothing at all. A waiver of these fees is available for low-income people qualifying and applying for it.

Using a credit card means that an alien wanting to be a citizen can pay off the $680 over a period of time — at the cost of some interest payments — and need not save the sum to become a citizen. The system will not only encourage aliens to file, it probably will nudge them to do so earlier rather than later, thus allowing them to vote in more elections than if cash on the barrelhead was demanded. (If the credit card company refuses to accept the $680 charge, the application is denied.)

Jeb Bush Then. In 1984 a younger Jeb Bush, then chair of the Dade County Republican Party, organized a naturalization drive (largely) among Cuban emigres, which led to a mass ceremony in the Orange Bowl on September 17, 1984. The event featured a prominent guest, the vice president. The timing was perfect; it came shortly before the deadline for registering to vote for the 1984 election.

Typically, both then and now, naturalization ceremonies are much smaller in scale, often being conducted in federal courtrooms.

I happen to know about the Miami ceremony because a few months later I started a study, funded by the Ford Foundation, about the naturalization program. The report, "The Long Grey Welcome", is long out of print and was named for our drab processes and citizenship ceremonies, in contrast to the much more lively Canadian program.

In the course of conducting research I visited the Miami office of what then was the Immigration and Naturalization Service and wrote this about staff's reaction to the Orange Bowl ceremony:

It was a logistical challenge of the first order; it used so many people to staff [the event] that the entire INS office closed for the day, and there are still certificates for that day's ceremony that have not yet been claimed. Further, it appears that some people were granted citizenship who were not eligible.

In those days, even more so than now, Cubans were regarded as likely supporters of the GOP.

At that time the U.S. naturalization process was more decentralized than today. Aliens were interviewed by INS staff members who decided whether citizenship should be awarded based on an interview. There were no standardized tests, as there are now. The approval rates, as a result, varied enormously from office to office.

Now there is a standardized test, a very easy one. All the potential questions, together with their answers, are public. A selection of the questions then is asked of the applicants. Some aliens still fail it.

Topics: Politics