Becoming a Citizen – Part 5 – What Does an American Believe?


Immigration 101 is a series based on my course at Hofstra Law School.

In the last installment of this series, I raised the question of whether ideas of racial or religious compatibility with an idealized vision of who an American is should be considered in allowing immigrants to naturalize and become U.S. citizens. I noted that in France, a conservative Muslim woman had not been allowed to become a French citizen, in part because she did not accept gender equality.

In this installment, I want to consider whether a person needs to have a specific set of views or values that should be required before that person is allowed to naturalize.

Many of my students tell me that someone should, at least believe in the rights granted by the Constitution before they are allowed to naturalize. This view would seem to be supported by the Oath citizens swear which promises adherence to the Constitution. But does that mean an adherence to all the values contained in the constitution, as interpreted by competent authorities, or merely adherence to non-violent political action as prescribed by the Constitution?

So, for example, should devout Catholics be denied naturalization because they may want to change the Constitution to outlaw abortion? What about immigrants who disagree with the Supreme Court’s opinion that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns? Should they be banned from becoming citizens?

In the past, Congress has tried to use the immigration and naturalization laws to craft a polity in line with dominant public opinion. In a country whose First amendment protects the right of each individual to hold her own political opinion, is such political engineering really “upholding the Constitution”?

In the next installment of Immigration 101, I’ll give you the answer one Supreme Court Justice gave to this question in the middle of World War II.

Read other parts of this series:

Immigration 101 is a comprehensive series on American immigration law for the layperson. This series tracks my course on immigration law at Hofstra Law School and answers many of your questions about immigration policy.


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