U.S. Naturalization Standards Should Be More Stringent

By Jessica M. Vaughan on February 5, 2014

New York Times, February 5, 2014

It is most certainly in the national interest to have an immigration policy that promotes good citizenship, with all its rights and responsibilities. We should aim to admit immigrants who want to be Americans and adopt our national identity, but not people who merely seek the convenience and protection of a U.S. passport and other benefits. Our current system is very good at increasing the number of citizens, but not as good at screening out those who can be considered citizens only in the most technical sense of the word, like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston marathon terrorist, or Anwar Al-Awlaki, the late Al Qaeda propagandist.

House Republicans are rightfully skeptical of legalization proposals that will disadvantage the citizens who are already here.

Our standards for naturalization could and should be more stringent. We must not allow terrorists, criminals, subversives and those who have no real ties to or affection for America to become citizens. We can do a better job of examining the more than 750,000 citizenship applications that are processed each year.

These are important policy issues, but they are a sideshow in the current debate over legalization and comprehensive immigration reform.

Proponents of a broad legalization program for eight to 11 million illegal aliens and their families plus huge increases in both green cards and guest worker programs would like us to believe that there is consensus for the idea, and that the only sticking point is the question of access to citizenship.

In reality, the big issue is not citizenship, but legalization; not how to do it, but whether to do it. The resistance stems from concern about the wage and unemployment effects on Americans and legal immigrants noted by the Congressional Budget Office and fears about the fiscal, national security and public safety impact that have been highlighted by others. These are compounded by frustration with the 40 percent drop in interior immigration enforcement under President Obama, and reports of cronyism and rubber-stamping of applications under his appointees.

Like the "Gang of 8" senators before him, House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team thought that they could fool the House majority into going along with legalization by avoiding the word “amnesty,” tacking on faux conditions, and delaying access to citizenship.

It won’t work. House Republicans do not object to welcoming new citizens, but they are rightfully skeptical of legalization proposals that will disadvantage the citizens who are already here.