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Citizenship: A Fundamental American Value

by Eduardo Aguirre

I remember becoming a U.S. Citizen like it was yesterday. In fact, more than thirty years have passed since that profound, life-changing event. I recall feeling nervous yet elated; humbled although proud and anxious but relieved.

The emotions that surround citizenship are complex and powerful, and are experienced by some 640,000 newly naturalized citizens each year.

There are no second-class citizens in America. We are one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Around the country, a renewed sense of American pride and a greater appreciation for the strength of the common values is uniting us. Citizenship is a fundamental American value. It calls for, both in definition and practice, allegiance, patriotism and active participation in government and community.

On September 17th, America will celebrate Citizenship Day; a day proclaimed by the President to honor native-born and naturalized foreign-born citizens. Designated in 1952, this day commemorates the events of September 17th, 1787, when delegates from 12 states at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed our constitution. Moreover, it celebrates our supreme law of the land as the oldest working constitution in the world.

Congress and the Administration recognized the importance of patriotism within the Homeland Security Act of 2002, calling for the creation of a Federal office whose sole mission is to promote public awareness of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and I are pleased to announce the establishment of the Office of Citizenship, within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The new Office will revive and emphasize the common civic identity and values essential to citizenship, raise awareness of the benefits and responsibilities associated with citizenship, enhance educational opportunities in English, Civics and History for legal immigrants to assist their integration into U.S. society

We recognize an immediate need to reach out to new, legal immigrants at the earliest opportunity to provide them with the information and tools they need to successfully integrate into American civic society. We are developing an orientation package to be presented upon their initial arrival into the United States.

U.S. CIS looks forward to partnering with colleagues in all levels of government as well as with the private and non-governmental sectors in promoting instruction and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities.

It is also our duty to make the process of becoming an American as meaningful as possible. As a first step, we are identifying potential revisions to the Oath of Allegiance, the cornerstone of the candidate's commitment to U.S. citizenship. Any revisions would be open for public comment.

It is our objective to maintain the original substance but identify more modern language, resembling a proposal by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in its final report to Congress in 1997. In calling for a new oath, the Commission indicated that the current oath is not widely understood by new citizens and that its wording includes dated language, archaic form and convoluted grammar.

Founding father and first president, George Washington was himself foreign-born. In his farewell address, he noted "Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections."

Washington's observation holds true- the value of citizenship begins within the individual and is fostered by the country. Citizenship is as much a personal privilege as it is a national responsibility.

About The Author

Eduardo Aguirre is the first Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of three legacy INS components to join the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Aguirre emigrated to the U.S., from Cuba, as an accompanied minor.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.