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ferent principates, potentates or sovereign entities and potentates, I guess could be understood as a terrorist group, but I think we could simplify that and use terminology, for example, like foreign state and power. Power, I think, would cover groups like al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
So I think there is room here to work, but we have to make sure, because that is the mandate from Congress, that we meet those five requirements. And that, we are going to make sure that we meet. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we include comments from the public, from citizens and obviously from Congress.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. And with regard to the five requirements in law, I see a nuance change in the proposed language where the requirement in statute explicitly says that an oath must include the mention of bearing arms on behalf of the United States when required by law. And that does not differentiate between military service and, say, the context of the second amendment to the Constitution regarding civilian keeping and bearing of arms. And so, the original oath, the current oath, does explicitly refer to bearing arms and does not make a differentiation between who bears arms, but in the proposed oath by the Bureau, it says, "where and if lawfully required, I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military noncombatant or civilian service."
And because it does not speak explicitly to the point made in statute with regard to bearing arms, and because it explicitly does mention military service in relationship to noncombatant or civilian service, there is, to me, once again a nuance that we may be changing the notion that civilians who are not under military control may be required, if there is an assault on the homeland, to bear arms. And it seems to me that the explicit mention of that in statute as it is today is once again harkening back to our War for Independence and the second amendment.
Can you speak to that?
Mr. AGUILAR. Absolutely, and let me say that I agree with you wholeheartedly. In the language that we are working on right now, we are actually addressing that issue. And right now, we believe that the principle of bearing arms should be included in the oath. Mr. HOSTETTLER. For nonmilitary citizens?
Mr. AGUILAR. So it is understood as it is right now in the current oath.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Thank you.
My time is up, and our time may be up. And since our time is not up, please continue with what you were mentioning.
Mr. AGUILAR. Right, so it would basically make the point that the current oath makes now, and if I can just find the languageexactly, make the point that it says right now: I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law. We believe that we should keep that concept as we are working on new language that that concept should be included for civilian individuals. Mr. HOSTETTLER. Citizens.
Mr. AGUILAR. Citizens, yes.
Dr. Schoenholtz, I have questions for you, too. It was not the Commission on Immigration Reform's intent, once again, that the only duty that naturalized citizens would have to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States is by consenting to be drafted, was it?
Mr. SCHOENHOLTZ. Not in the least.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Do you know in your discussion why the notion of bearing arms by citizens was not-once again, it seems like the language, to me, refers to the bearing of arms strictly by the military, and then, in relationship to so-called noncombatant service and civilian service.
Mr. SCHOENHOLTZ. Frankly, it was not a major discussion among the commissioners. In fact, they simply found Commissioner Estrada's language clearer. They didn't think it raised any of these issues. Had they, I am sure there would have been much more discussion about it.
I think Commissioner Estrada, were he able to speak to you today; unfortunately, he passed away several years ago.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Yes.
Mr. SCHOENHOLTZ. Would tell you the very same thing, that certainly, there was no intent to change the meaning of those elements. He thought and the commissioners, all nine, thought, they captured that meaning, and they certainly were not trying to change the intent of Congress in that. They thought this was clear
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Thank you.
Dr. Fonte, why do you believe that the oath plays such a key role in making new citizens part of the American family?
Mr. FONTE. Well, as I said in my testimony, I believe that the oath-because of the kind of country that we are, a nation not based on race or ethnicity and religion but on loyalty to our Constitutional democracy. What the immigrant is doing is leaving a previous people and joining the American people, becoming part of the sovereign American people.
If I could make a comment on what some of the other-what the discussion has been on the oath itself, we worked with Congressman Gekas, when he was Chairman of the Committee, with the Citizenship Roundtable, and he wanted to drop abjure and potentate, and we thought that was fine, and basically kept everything else the same. Now, Chief Aguilar has a suggestion in putting in the word "power" instead of "potentate." A foreign power, then, would be al-Qaeda or a terrorist group could be constituted as a foreign power.
Now, the other point that I wanted to emphasize is that upon applying for naturalization, the applicants for citizenship do get the oath, so they have 6 months or sometimes, we know it takes a long time to become a citizen; it may take years, they have time to study the meaning of the oath. So this is a very short-whatever is come up with and even the current one could be explained exactly what is in the documents given to the applicants, and they have a lot of time to study the meaning of the oath, so there is a period of time to understand exactly what it means.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Very good.
And so as not to seem as an overly despotic potentate at this point- [Laughter.]
I would like to recognize the gentlelady from Texas, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Ms. Jackson Lee, for an opening statement and for questions.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I hope you offer to the witnesses, Mr. Ryun, that the Science Committee markup was doing something probably a little bit awry from this hearing on green chemistry, and for those of you who may not be aware, I wear a scientist's hat in my own mind, but I had an amendment, so I apologize to the Chairman, but I thank the Committee very much for this hearing.
Allow me to offer a few words of an opening statement and to say that I surmise and would believe that the support of the change in the language or the support of preserving the language is one that has been offered with great commitment and intent to the principles and the value of citizenship in the United States, and I respect that.
Taking an oath is a critical legal step in becoming a naturalized citizen, and in this Committee, both of us, the Chairman and the Ranking Member have spoken about the values of accessing citizenship. We may come at it in a different perspective, or we may have different solutions, but the value of accessing citizenship or the value of citizenship is taken very seriously in this Committee. The words of the Oath of Allegiance convey the core meaning of becoming an American citizen. The Naturalization Act of 1790 and other early statutes required new citizens to swear an oath containing the elements of the current language, but prior to 1906, naturalization courts had free rein in determining the actual words.
As there were approximately 5,000 such courts, there was a wide variation in the language used, and might I suggest to you that that was the time when America opened its doors and its shores to immigrants who came for economic opportunity. We're reminded of the Statue of Liberty and the words that she posts on her figure. It is interesting as well that in that time, though we went through our share of discrimination, the doors remained open and our hearts as well. Any of us who have attended naturalization services realize that the intensity, commitment, the joy, the celebration is equal, probably, to those years past. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt's Commission on Naturalization recommended that naturalization laws should be rewritten to be more effective and consistent.
The basic Naturalization Act of 1906 implemented most of the Roosevelt Commission's recommendations, but it did not mandate a specific text for the oath. Regulations were not enacted until 1929. The Naturalization Act of 1940 provided that the elements of the naturalization oath prescribed by regulation must all be present in the spoken oath to make it a binding act. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act required an oath with five specific elements, but it left the actual words to regulations and the discretion of judges who administer the oath.
The following elements were specified: support for the Constitution; renunciation of prior allegiance; defense of the Constitution
against all foreign and domestic enemies; true faith and allegiance to bear arms or noncombatant service as required.
Mr. Chairman and the panel, I agree with the elements of this oath. They are realistic; they are minimal, but they are necessary. In 1997, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform determined that Congress had fulfilled its legislative duties by establishing the five required elements. The Commission also determined that the language of the oath is a living expression of culture that grows and evolves. And it concluded that the language of oath should be updated, and might I repeat what the Commission concluded, that the oath is a living expression of culture that grows and evolves. It unanimously recommended a new naturalization oath written by Richard Estrada. In late 2003, the Bush administration announced its intention to adopt the following, slightly modified version of the Estrada oath: "Solemnly, freely and without mental reservation, I hereby renounce under oath all allegiance to any foreign state. My fidelity and allegiance from this day forward is to the United States of America. I pledge to support, honor and be loyal to the United States, its Constitution, and its laws. Where and if lawfully required, I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant or civilian service. This, I do solemnly swear, so help me, God."
This proposal met with resistance. For instance, former Attorney General Edwin Meese objected that the proposed language only asked new citizens to renounce their allegiance to "foreign state." He argued that, "In an era of international but non-state-specific terrorism, this singular reference is not sufficient. At the very least, an additional reference to 'sovereignty' or other appropriate terms should be maintained."
The Citizenship Roundtable objected to the dropping of the phrase, "I will bear arms on behalf of the United States," which it felt should clearly be understandable by anyone who wishes to become an American citizen.
I welcome such a debate over the text of our naturalization oath. But the need to resolve such issues does not require Congressional intervention or justify making the oath a statutory provision. I agree with the U.S. Čommission on Immigration Reform that the language of the oath should be updated to make it meaningful to the people being naturalized. The current oath's dated language, archaic form and convoluted grammar prevent it from being widely understood by new citizens.
On the other hand, I also agree with my colleague, Congressman Ryun, that changes should not be made hastily. I believe that the oath should only be changed by regulations promulgated in accordance with the safeguards of the Administrative Procedure Act.
Mr. Chairman, I ask that my statement be submitted into the record or that it be accepted, rather, into the record.
Mr. HOSTETTLER. Without objection.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Let me briefly take some questions, in particular to my colleague, Mr. Ryun.
In general, Congress sets out major parameters for immigration law and leaves it up to the Executive Branch to work out the implementing details. This has been the practice for many years with
respect to the Oath of Allegiance. And my question, of course, which is a question included in my statement, is why now, and why should we alter that practice?
Mr. RYUN. Thank you very much for your opening statement, and let me also address your question.
First of all, the reason this was brought to the attention of the Judiciary Committee is simply because there were some considerations for a language change that could have compromised the intent, I think, of the original Oath of Allegiance, and the reason for this legislation is simply to bring that debate where I think it should be addressed, and that is to the appropriate Committee, to the House of Representatives, to our elected officials, with Congressional oversight so that there would be a good, healthy debate and keep the intent of what was designed as the Oath of Allegiance from the very beginning.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Ryun, let me just say that the explanation could result in quite the contrary, and I guess my concern would be that we would constantly be amending the language by statutory effort and altering a simple oath that would be clear on its face and clear to those who are taking the oath of office including all of the elements.
As I look at the oath as presently constructed, we do have to support and honor and be loyal to the United States, and we also have to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant or civilian service. Where lies the confusion or the necessity to clarify?
Mr. RYUN. The intent, again, is to bring that before a body such as this where you would have the kind of debate I think that is necessary, again, to move it forward as opposed to allowing a bureaucracy on the outside to make such a decision without having Congressional oversight.
So, again, the intent is to ensure that we keep those five basic principles that are there. Perhaps there is a need to address some of the modernization of some words, and I recognize some of them are hard to say. But when you say them, and you have to pause and say them, it causes you to realize the seriousness of what the immigrant is getting involved in in terms of citizenship.
I am not opposed to modernizing some of the words, but let us not abandon the time-tested principle of Congressional oversight. Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Schoenholtz, how do you respond to the argument made by Congressman Ryun, and does the climate today require us to codify and make statutory a simple oath? Are we in any way weeding out terrorists if we have a statutory basis? Are we gaining anything by this approach?
Mr. SCHOENHOLTZ. Ms. Jackson Lee, I think that Congress would not be gaining anything by enacting statutory language. In fact, I think we might be losing something here. The usual division of carrying out the responsibilities between the Congress and the Executive Branch is that Congress has set forth the major policies. That is what it has done with regard to the naturalization oath. It has the five required elements. And it has required the Executive Branch then to work out the details, important details, very important here, and they have done so through the regulatory process in the past, and that is certainly what they should do again today.