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[Congressional Record: October 10, 2000 (House)]
[Page H9545-H9548]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr10oc00-78]                         



 
             DISABLED IMMIGRANT NATURALIZATION OATH WAIVER

  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass 
the bill (H.R. 4838) 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, as amended.
  The Clerk read as follows:

                               H.R. 4838

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

     SECTION 1. WAIVER OF OATH OF RENUNCIATION AND ALLEGIANCE FOR 
                   NATURALIZATION OF ALIENS HAVING CERTAIN 
                   DISABILITIES.

       (a) In General.--Section 337(a) of the Immigration and 
     Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1448(a)) is amended by adding at 
     the end the following:

     ``The Attorney General may waive the taking of the oath by a 
     person if in the opinion of the Attorney General the person 
     is unable to understand, or to communicate an understanding 
     of, its meaning because of a physical or developmental 
     disability or mental impairment. If the Attorney General 
     waives the taking of the oath by a person under the preceding 
     sentence, the person shall be considered to have met the 
     requirements of section 316(a)(3) with respect to attachment 
     to the principles of the Constitution and well disposition to 
     the good order and happiness of the United States.''.
       (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by subsection (a) 
     shall apply to persons applying for naturalization before, 
     on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from 
Texas (Mr. Smith) and the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) each 
will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith).


                             General Leave

  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all 
Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend 
their remarks and include extraneous material on the bill under 
consideration.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Texas?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen) 
for introducing this bill, and I appreciate the effort she put into it 
to get to the point it is in today.
  Mr. Speaker, H.R. 4838 permits the Attorney General to waive the 
taking of the oath of allegiance by a naturalization applicant if, in 
the opinion of the Attorney General, the applicant is unable to 
understand or to communicate an understanding of the oath's meaning 
because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.
  Mr. Speaker, some disabled, lawful permanent resident aliens have 
been unable to overcome obstructions at various stages in the 
naturalization process because of their disabilities. The Immigration 
and Nationality Act permits the Attorney General to waive the taking of 
the oath by a child if the child is unable to understand its meaning. 
Yet, some of those disabled individuals who were granted a medical

[[Page H9546]]

waiver for the English, history and government exams due to their 
physical or developmental disability or mental impairment also cannot 
communicate an understanding of the oath of renunciation. This bill 
provides the necessary waiver.
  Like the preexisting oath waiver for children, this bill permits 
disabled applicants who cannot understand the oath or cannot 
communicate an understanding of the oath to overcome this last 
obstruction to becoming a United States citizen.
  This bill will apply to persons applying for naturalization before, 
on, or after the date of enactment of this act.
  Disabled naturalization applicants who have in the past been denied 
naturalization because they could not understand or communicate an 
understanding of the meaning of the oath may reopen their 
naturalization applications and continue the process of becoming 
American citizens.
  I appreciate the willingness of the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. 
Ros-Lehtinen) to agree to the technical corrections found in this 
suspension version of H.R. 4838. I also appreciate her dedication to 
this deserving group of aspiring citizens.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this bill.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to add a special 
note of tribute and sadness to the loss of the gentleman from Minnesota 
(Mr. Vento).
  In particular, I want to acknowledge the work that he did with our 
subcommittee on the Hmong Naturalization Act, which gave relief to 
Laotian veterans who fought during the Vietnam War. We have waived 
their citizenship requirements, and the bill passed in the House and 
Senate. The gentleman from Minnesota was a great leader on these 
issues, and we thank him very much for the service he gave. His loss 
will be very much experienced by all of us.
  Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the bill of the gentlewoman from 
Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen), H.R. 4838. This bill would provide a waiver 
of the oath of renunciation and allegiance for naturalization in the 
case of certain people who are incapable of understanding such an oath. 
The oath of allegiance is the last step in the naturalization process. 
I thank the chairman for seeing this bill through the process and 
working in a bipartisan manner.
  Mr. Speaker, this bill signifies the fact that the person is 
renouncing allegiance to the country he or she is already a citizen of 
and declaring allegiance to the United States. It is a meaningless 
requirement in the case of a person who cannot understand such an oath, 
and it is causing great harm to many people.
  Naturalization applicants are required to demonstrate their ability 
to take a meaningful oath of allegiance to the United States. Perhaps 
the potential unfairness of this requirement can be seen most clearly 
in the case of Alzheimer's victims. Remember, many of these individuals 
are elderly, and may have waited a long period of time to receive this 
precious right of citizenship in the United States.
  As a country, we have decided to provide medical benefits to our 
citizens. Alzheimer's victims who have been lawful, permanent residents 
for decades are in desperate need of these benefits, and they would be 
entitled to them as U.S. citizens, but for the fact that the 
Alzheimer's disease is preventing them to take an oath of allegiance. 
This truly is a catch-22 situation. The very disease that creates the 
need for medical services is preventing them from receiving the 
services.
  This does not just apply to victims of Alzheimer's disease, it 
applies to many elderly people in our society who have lived in the 
United States as lawful, productive members of our society for many 
years and now desperately need medical assistance.
  I have three constituents I want to tell Members about, a man and a 
woman and their 17-year-old child who has a mental impairment. The man 
and woman have applied for naturalization, and we have every reason to 
expect their applications to be granted. The problem is that their 
child will age out of eligibility for derivative citizenship when she 
turns 18 at the end of the year. She would then have to apply for 
naturalization on her own, which would require an oath of allegiance.
  The child will lose derivative citizenship because INS cannot process 
a naturalization application for her parents in a reasonable amount of 
time. The average processing time for a naturalization application is 
more than 20 months. Because she is not competent to take an oath of 
allegiance, she will not be able to pursue a naturalization application 
on her own when she is 18 years old and has aged out of eligibility for 
derivative status.
  This is terribly unfair. This is dividing and destroying a family. I 
enthusiastically urge members to support H.R. 4838, and thank my 
colleague, the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen), 
enthusiastically for her work.
  Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Representative Ros-Lehtinen's bill, 
H.R. 4838. This bill would provide a waiver of the oath of renunciation 
and allegiance for naturalization in the case of certain people who are 
incapable of understanding such an oath. The oath of allegiance is the 
last step in the naturalization process.
  It signifies the fact that the person is renouncing allegiance to the 
country he or she is already a citizen of and declaring allegiance to 
the United States. It is a meaningless requirement in the case of a 
person who cannot understand such an oath, and it is causing great harm 
to many people.
  Naturalization applications are required to demonstrate their ability 
to take a ``meaningful oath'' of allegiance to the United States. 
Perhaps the potential unfairness of this requirement can be seen most 
clearly in the case of Alzheimer's victims. As a country, we have 
decided to provide medical benefits to our citizens. Alzheimer victims 
who have been lawful permanent residents for decades are in desperate 
need of these medical benefits, and they would be entitled to them as 
U.S. citizens but for the fact that Alzheimer's disease is preventing 
them from taking an oath of allegiance. This is truly a ``catch 22'' 
situation. The very disease that creates the need for medical services 
is preventing them from receiving the services.
  This doesn't just apply to victims of Alzheimer's disease. It applies 
to many elderly people in our society who have lived in the United 
States as lawful, productive members of our society for many years, and 
new desperately need medical assistance.
  I have three constituents I want to tell you about, a man and a woman 
and their 17-year-old child who has a mental impairment. The man and 
the woman have applied for naturalization, and we have every reason to 
expect their applications to be granted. The problem is that their 
child will age-out of eligibility for derivative citizenship when she 
turns 18 at the end of the year. She will then have to apply for 
naturalization on her own, which will require an oath of allegiance.
  The child will lose derivative citizenship because INS cannot process 
the naturalization applications of her parents in a reasonable amount 
of time.
  The average processing time for a naturalization application is more 
than 20 months. And, because she is not competent to take an oath of 
allegiance, she won't be able to pursue a naturalization application on 
her own when she is 18 years old and has aged out of eligibility for 
derivative status. This is terribly unfair.
  I urge Members to support H.R. 4838.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as she may consume 
to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen), the author of the 
bill.
  Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman for yielding time 
to me.
  Mr. Speaker, the United States is the world's greatest economic 
power. We sustain one of the world's highest standards of living that 
is more diversified than any other on Earth.
  As a naturalized citizen, I know that the United States is the 
greatest country in the world, which is why it is not surprising that 
every year thousands of people from all over the world wish to be part 
of our great Nation.
  But it is not necessarily the economic prosperity found here in our 
country that brings people here, because what naturalized Americans 
cherish most are the basic freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit 
of happiness.
  As with many of my constituents, I know firsthand what it means and 
what it takes to become an American citizen. It is an emotional moment

[[Page H9547]]

when one declares to the world that this is their new land and this is 
indeed where they belong. So many people struggle with distance, 
language, and culture to come to a moment where they pledge the oath of 
allegiance, that this is their new countries, the United States of 
America.
  At each naturalization ceremony, new Americans amplify a commitment 
that they have made in their hearts. As I was, they are reminded not 
only of America's promise, but of the responsibilities that they will 
proudly bear.
  The U.S. has historically offered opportunities to all people, 
regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. However, immigration law 
has not yet considered a small group of individuals with cognitive 
disabilities. In fact, a small fraction, only .1 percent, of soon-to-be 
Americans cannot complete the naturalization process because of a 
handicap that renders them ineffective in communicating an 
understanding of the naturalization oath.
  These individuals are not exempt from fulfilling requirements of 
naturalization such as being of good moral character and of residency 
here in the United States. They must still fulfill those 
responsibilities. But these severely disabled individuals pose no 
threat to American society. Yet, they should be entitled to the same 
responsibilities and opportunities that we as Americans all share.
  My legislation will enable individuals suffering from advanced 
Alzheimer's, from Downs syndrome, and from autism to waive the oath of 
allegiance in order to become United States citizens.
  The United States is the greatest success story of the modern world. 
So in a Nation such as ours, disability should not hinder a person from 
achieving one of the loftiest goals, that of becoming a United States 
citizen.
  In our country, persons with disabilities who are given opportunities 
have never let us down. Waiving the oath for .1 percent of 
neurologically-impaired persons will help fulfill the American dream 
for many new American families.

                              {time}  1630

  It will affirm the generous nature of the American spirit, and it 
will boast of America's compassionate character. I urge my colleagues 
to vote for passage of my legislation. It will ensure that equality is 
meant for all persons regardless of their disabilities. And I thank the 
gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith) again for his time.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my 
time.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman 
from California (Mr. Cox), the chairman of the Committee on House 
Policy.
  Mr. COX. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Texas (Chairman 
Smith) and the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen) for their 
leadership on this legislation, which is so strongly needed in the 
interests of justice. Everyone is moved by stories of people who work 
hard and play by the rules. That is certainly the case for one of my 
constituents who, for 6 years, has been working hard to become legally 
a citizen of the United States.
  Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, when the system of justice does not work, 
it is heartbreaking for those involved. In the case of Vijai Rajan, who 
is 25 years old, she has lived in this country her entire life, since 
she was 4 months old. Both of her parents are naturalized U.S. 
citizens. Her sister was born in Cincinnati. The Rajan family wanted 
Vijai also to become a citizen, but you see, Vijai is in a wheelchair. 
She requires 24-hour-a-day care. She has cerebral palsy, muscular 
dystrophy, Crohn's disease, and suffers from seizures.
  She communicates by sounds and by signs that she understands, and the 
only expressions are those that she feels. Of course, Vijai could not 
raise her hand and take the oath of citizenship. But the INS, the 
Immigration and Naturalization Service, where her family applied for 
her some 6 years ago has run them through the bureaucratic mill for 
years.
  They contacted my office after having twice filed for citizenship, 
after having had her in her wheelchair even down to the INS office. She 
had been working for 4 years with the INS at that point; and not until 
later, not until the very end, did the INS tell them, even though they 
had met the other requirements, that she could not become a citizen in 
any event, because she could not raise her hand and say the oath.
  The INS regs already allow an exemption from the English language for 
people who wish to become citizens. They allow for people with 
disabilities an exemption from the American history requirement. And a 
recent court case recently held that a man with Down's Syndrome who 
could not recite the oath could still be granted citizenship.
  But in the case of Vijai Rajan, the INS pressed on, litigated, tried 
to do everything possible to prevent this woman and her family from 
letting her become a citizen.
  Today with the passage of H.R. 4838, Congress will clearly state that 
the Attorney General has the authority to waive the oath requirement 
for people with disabilities. This legislation also sends a strong 
signal that long delays in bureaucratic impediments are not the 
greeting that this great Nation will extend to its new citizens. I 
thank the Rajan family for never losing hope.
  It sometimes takes an act of Congress to write a wrong. Vijai may not 
be able to comprehend the full extent of her legacy, but I know that 
passing this legislation will bring great comfort to all of her family 
and friends and all other immigrants who dream of becoming United 
States citizens. I thank my colleagues for their leadership in bringing 
this important legislation to the floor.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my 
time.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman 
from Maryland (Mrs. Morella), my colleague and classmate.
  Mrs. MORELLA. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. 
Smith), my classmate, for yielding the time to me, for his leadership 
on this committee and on this subcommittee.
  I very much appreciate having this bill come on the floor. I want to 
certainly thank the author of the bill, the gentlewoman from Florida 
(Ms. Ros-Lehtinen), because this is something that is so humane and 
does help so many people who are so deserving of citizenship.
  It will allow the Attorney General to waive the oath requirements for 
nationalization, if the applicant is an individual with a physical or 
mental disability or mental impairment, who because of such disability 
is unable to understand or communicate an understanding of the meaning 
of the oath.
  We all have examples. Let me just try one out. Gustavo Galvez-Letona, 
a 27-year-old native Guatemalan with Down's Syndrome, arrived in the 
United States when he was 10 years old. INS waived the English and 
civics tests for him but refused to waive the oath; thus he is the only 
member of his family who is not yet naturalized.
  A Federal district court granted his petition for naturalization, 
recognizing that since INS has statutory authority to waive the oath 
for children, the oath is not an essential eligibility requirement. The 
court ordered INS to naturalize Mr. Galvez-Letona, stating that because 
of his severe mental disability, he is no different than a child who is 
unable to understand the oath and attachment requirements.
  The Department of Justice has appealed the court's decision.
  By passing this bill, which will waive the oath of renunciation and 
allegiance for naturalization for individuals with cognitive 
disabilities, or children who are unable to understand the meaning of 
the oath, we will enable thousands of families across our country who 
are living with autism, Down's Syndrome, Alzheimer's and other 
neurological disorders to realize American citizenship.
  It is historically a part of our great country to be an inclusive 
Nation and provide opportunities for all, so I salute all who are 
involved in this legislation.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this humanitarian bill.
  Mr. Speaker, not knowing whether I will appear as a manager of a bill 
again, let me thank the Committee on the Judiciary staff for their 
leadership and outstanding service, and particularly those of the 
subcommittee that

[[Page H9548]]

 are here: George Fishman, Lora Reis, Kelly Dixon, Leon Buck, and Nolan 
Rappaport.
  Mr. DIAZ-BALART. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support for the 
critically-needed legislation introduced by my colleague, Ms. Ros-
Lehtinen (H.R. 4838).
  This legislation would remove an onerous obstacle for those persons 
with disabilities who are legal permanent residents, but because of 
their disabilities, are foreclosed from obtaining citizenship because 
they cannot recite the naturalization oath.
  This legislation gives the Attorney General the authority to waive 
the oath of renunciation and allegiance for naturalization for 
individuals with cognitive disabilities, or children who are unable to 
understand the meaning of the oath. Accordingly, this legislation will 
enable thousands of families in our nation who have loved ones with 
autism, down syndrome, Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders to 
realize American citizenship for their loved ones. It will also give 
them peace of mind in that their loved ones will be able to attain 
citizenship and thereby secure the benefits and security accorded to 
United States citizens. This legislation will also enable disabled 
people the opportunity, as citizens, to develop their abilities so that 
they can be the most productive citizens they possibly can be.
  Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be a cosponsor of this worthwhile 
legislation and I applaud my colleagues Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and 
Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith for advancing it to the House 
suspension calendar for a vote today.
  Mr. SHAYS. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 4838, which 
would permit the Attorney General to waive the oath of renunciation and 
allegiance in instances when the applicant for naturalization is an 
individual with a severe disability who is unable to understand or 
communicate an understanding of the meaning of the oath. This 
legislation is important to families in Connecticut and across this 
country.
  I want to thank Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for introducing 
this legislation and Chairman Lamar Smith for working with our offices 
to bring it to the floor. I also want to thank Connecticut's senior 
senator, Christopher Dodd, for his work on this legislation in the 
Senate.
  Under current law, the Attorney General has the authority to waive 
for disabled applicants the English and civics tests required for 
naturalization. It makes little sense that the Attorney General has the 
discretion to waive these tests but is prohibited from waiving the oath 
of renunciation and allegiance required of these same disabled 
applicants.
  The result is that despite the fulfillment of all other requirements 
for naturalization, certain disabled individuals are unable to ever 
become citizens. These instances are rare, but they have terrible 
implications for the affected families. For example, it is possible 
under current law for an entire family to be naturalized with the 
exception of one disabled family member--who then could face possible 
deportation.
  The main purpose of the oath requirement is to prevent the 
naturalization of people who are hostile to the United States 
Government or the principles of the Constitution. Waiving this 
requirement for people with severe disabilities does nothing to defeat 
this purpose or threaten our national security because these 
individuals lack the capacity to understand the oath and, therefore, 
cannot form the intent to act against our government.
  Furthermore, individuals with disabilities who receive a waiver would 
still have to fulfill other requirements of naturalization, including 
good moral character and residency.
  The legislation we are considering today poses no danger and 
manifests our nation's compassion--a characteristic too often missing 
from our immigration policy. I urge my colleagues to support its 
passage.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my 
time.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Gibbons). The question is on the motion 
offered by the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith) that the House suspend 
the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 4838, as amended.
  The question was taken; and (two-thirds having voted in favor 
thereof) the rules were suspended and the bill, as amended, was passed.
  A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that the 
Committee on the Judiciary be discharged from the further consideration 
of the Senate bill (S. 2812) 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, and ask for its 
immediate consideration in the House.
  The Clerk read the title of the Senate bill.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Texas?
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, 
I yield to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith) for an explanation.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, let me explain that the purpose of 
the request is to amend the companion Senate bill and send it back to 
the Senate with the text of H.R. 4838 which the House has just passed.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Reclaiming my time, I thank the gentleman 
for his response.
  Mr. Speaker, I withdraw my reservation of objection.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Texas?
  There was no objection.
  The Clerk read the Senate bill, as follows:

                                S. 2812

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

     SECTION 1. WAIVER OF OATH OF RENUNCIATION AND ALLEGIANCE FOR 
                   NATURALIZATION OF ALIENS HAVING CERTAIN 
                   DISABILITIES.

       (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 Act.


                  Motion Offered by Mr. Smith of Texas

  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I offer a motion.
  The Clerk read, as follows:

       Mr. Smith of Texas moves to strike out all after the 
     enacting clause of S. 2812 and in lieu thereof insert the 
     text of H.R. 4838 as passed by the House.

  The motion was agreed to.
  The Senate bill was ordered to be read a third time, was read the 
third time, and passed, and a motion to reconsider was laid on the 
table.
  A similar House bill (H.R. 4838) was laid on the table.

                          ____________________





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