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[Congressional Record: June 29, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S6121-S6124]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

      By Mr. HATCH (for himself, Mr. Dodd, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. DeWine, 
        Mr. Kohl, Mr. Feingold, and Mr. Kennedy):
  S. 2812. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to 
provide a waiver of the oath of renunciation and allegiance for 
naturalization of aliens having certain disabilities; to the Committee 
on the Judiciary.


  Waiver of Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance for Naturalization of 
                   Aliens Having Certain Disabilities

<bullet> Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I rise today with my colleagues, 
Senator Christopher Dodd and others, to introduce a simple but highly 
significant bill which will confer the treasured status of American 
citizenship on individuals with disabilities.
  Under current law, the Attorney General possesses the authority to 
waive certain requirements of naturalization, such as the English and 
civics test requirements, for disabled applicants. The law, however, 
has been construed to stop short of granting the Attorney General 
authority to waive the requirement for the oath of renunciation and 
allegiance for disabled adult applicants.
  Consequently, even though such persons are able to fulfill all other 
requirements of naturalization, or it is clear that the Attorney 
General can waive them, certain individuals with disabilities may never 
become citizens.
  This is the sad situation that a young man from my home state of Utah 
is facing. Gustavo Galvez Letona, a 27 year-old immigrant from 
Guatemala, suffers from Down's syndrome. Mr. Letona's entire family are 

[[Page S6122]]

American citizens. But, while Mr. Letona is otherwise able to become a 
citizen, despite his developmental disability, the fact that the 
Attorney General's authority to waive the oath is unclear will prevent 
Mr. Letona from enjoying the same status as a naturalized American 
  Imagine a family in which mother, father, brothers and sisters could 
become U.S. citizens, but one sibling could not only because of a 
disability. I believe all my colleagues would agree that this would be 
a sad and tragic situation. It is discriminatory to boot.
  This bill would not affect a large number of people. A recent 
estimate was that only about 1100 individuals with disabilities would 
possibly be eligible for such a waiver. Moreover, I used the word 
``possibly'' because the waiver would not be automatic. The waiver 
would be granted at the discretion of the Attorney General and is not 
intended to confer citizenship on individuals--regardless of a 
disability--who would not otherwise qualify for citizenship. It would 
not apply to every individual with a disability, most of whom would not 
need such a waiver.
  Today's legislation remedies this unfortunate scenario facing Gustavo 
Letona by extending the Attorney General's authority to waive the 
taking of the oath if the applicant is unable to understand or 
communicate an understanding of the oath because of disability. This 
simple solution allows Mr. Letona and others the privilege of becoming 
American citizens.
  I would like to express my gratitude to Senator Dodd for his 
willingness to make this a bipartisan effort. I would also like to 
thank my Utah Advisory Committee on Disability Policy, and particularly 
Ron Gardner, who brought this problem to my attention and who works 
tirelessly to protect the rights of the disabled.
  I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be placed in the 
Record following my remarks.
  There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the 
Record, as follows:

                                S. 2812

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,


       (a) In General.--The last sentence of section 337(a) of the 
     Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1448(a)) is amended 
     to read as follows: ``The Attorney General may waive the 
     taking of the oath if in the opinion of the Attorney General 
     the applicant for naturalization is an individual with a 
     disability, or a child, who is unable to understand or 
     communicate an understanding of the meaning of the oath. If 
     the Attorney General waives the oath for such an individual, 
     the individual shall be considered to have met the 
     requirements of section 316(a)(3) as to attachment to the 
     Constitution and well disposition to the United States.''.
       (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by subsection (a) 
     shall apply to individuals who applied for naturalization 
     before, on, or after the date of enactment of this 

  Mr. DODD. Mr. President, I rise with Senator Hatch, Senator Feingold, 
Senator Kennedy, Senator DeWine, Senator Feinstein, and Senator Kohl to 
introduce a bill to resolve a rare but serious problem for some 
American families.
  I want to tell you a story about a young man named Mathieu, a 
resident of Connecticut. Mathieu's family--his mother, his father, and 
his sister--have all become naturalized U.S. citizens. But Mathieu has 
not been allowed to become a citizen because he's a 23-year-old low-
functioning autistic man who cannot meet a very technical requirement 
of the naturalization process, namely that he be able to swear an oath 
of loyalty to the United States. His naturalization request has been in 
limbo since November of 1996 because Mathieu could not understand some 
of the questions he was asked by the INS agent processing his 
application for citizenship. All of the other members of Mathieu's 
family have become U.S. citizens. Now Mathieu's mother lives with the 
fear that when she dies her most vulnerable child could be removed from 
the country and sent to a nation that he hardly knows, and where he has 
no family and no friends. Mathieu's mother--again, an American 
citizen--wants what every American wants--she wants to know that her 
child will be treated fairly by her government even when she's no 
longer capable of taking care of him herself. Mathieu's life is here. 
His friends and caregivers are here. His family is here. Mathieu's 
place is here and but for his disability, he would be allowed to stay 
here where he belongs. He would be allowed to become a citizen and his 
mother's fears would be relieved. Mr. President, this is a problem that 
a compassionate nation can fix. This is a problem that we have the 
power to solve.
  Under current law, a very small subgroup of people with severe mental 
disabilities cannot become citizens because they lack the capacity to 
take the oath of renunciation and allegiance. Since the Immigration and 
Nationality Act (INA) does not contain explicit statutory authority for 
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to waive the oath, 
people with brain injuries and other mental disabilities are routinely 
denied citizenship--even when the rest of their families are already 
U.S. citizens.
  Congress has previously recognized the injustice of denying 
citizenship to individuals based on their disabilities and has 
attempted to resolve the problem. In fact, in 1991 Congress created a 
procedure for expedited administration of the oath for applicants who 
have special circumstances, including disabilities, that prevent them 
from personally appearing at a scheduled ceremony. And in 1994, 
Congress exempted certain applicants with disabilities who are unable 
to learn from taking the English and civics tests. Unfortunately, these 
efforts have not effectively addressed the problem of individuals who 
are unable to take the oath because of mental incapacity, leaving the 
oath as the only barrier to citizenship for such individuals.
  The legislation we introduce today would amend the Immigration and 
Nationality Act to give the INS the discretion to waive the oath of 
allegiance for certain individuals who lack the mental capacity to 
comprehend the oath.
  Waiving the oath is really a technical amendment. There is no 
indication that Congress ever intended to split up families or cast 
doubt on the futures of family members not able to utter the oath by 
virtue of a mental disability.
  Waiving the oath does not defeat the purpose of Naturalization or the 
oath requirement. Individuals with disabilities who receive oath 
waivers would still have to fulfill the other requirements of 
naturalization, including good moral character and residency. Remember 
the main purpose of the oath requirement is to prevent the 
naturalization of people who are hostile to the government of the 
United States, or the principles of the Constitution. People with 
severe disabilities who lack the capacity to understand the oath cannot 
form the intent to act against the government. Waiving the oath poses 
no danger and manifests America's best, most compassionate 
  Let me conclude by saying that this is not a problem that faces 
millions of people--or even many thousands of people, but it is an 
important issue for the few families that are affected. Mr. President 
the United States should not force the break up of families. This bill 
will right an injustice and I urge its passage.

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