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TO PRESCRIBE THE OATH OF RENUNCIATION AND ALLEGIANCE FOR PURPOSES OF THE IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT
THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 2004
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, DC. The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:06 a.m., in Room 2141, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John N. Hostettler (Chair of the Subcommittee)
presiding. Mr. HOSTETTLER. Good morning. Today's hearing is on H.R. 3191, legislation introduced by our colleague, Jim Ryun, to memorialize in the Immigration and Nationality Act the current language of the Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance.
This solemn oath, taken by applicants for naturalization, is the final step in becoming a U.S. citizen. Recent proposals to modify the oath have generated a large measure of controversy and have refocused attention on the oath's meaning and on the proper forum to consider changes.
A naturalization ceremony is one of the most stirring and meaningful occasions in the public life of our nation, both for the new citizens themselves and for those privileged enough to witness the event. In reciting the oath, naturalizing citizens are becoming true Americans, pledging their fidelity and their hearts to a new nation. Statutorily, the oath is required to embody five principles. The reciter promises to, one, support the Constitution of United States; two, renounce allegiance to any foreign "prince, potentate, state or sovereignty;" three, support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; four, bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and, five, bear arms on behalf of the United States when necessary unless alternate national service is permitted.
The language of the present oath possesses a weight and majesty that helps focus one's mind on the implications of its recitation. Those who would like to alter it bear a heavy burden of proof. I do understand the motivation of those who feel that the language needs to be modernized; in fact, George Gekas, the former Chairman of this Subcommittee, strongly felt that revisions were in order.
The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform worried whether the oath, with its use of archaic language such as "potentate” and
"abjure,” was sufficiently comprehensible and thus meaningful to new citizens. The Commission recommended a new draft of the oath, one which was largely adopted by the Department of Homeland Security late last year in a proposed revision.
I share the concerns of Representative Ryun and many others that DHS proposed oath may not fully embody the five principles set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Most importantly, the present oath's statements that, "I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and, “I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law," are conflated to read, “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 . . . by military . . . service."
This seems to imply that the only duty that naturalized citizens have to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States is by consenting to being drafted and not a lifelong obligation to uphold the principles of our republic in everything that they do. I know that this could have not been the Commission's or DHS intent, but it is an impression that could easily be conveyed by the language.
The fact that such misunderstandings could so easily arise reinforce why we need to be so careful in tinkering with the oath. And this brings up my second point, that any proposed editing should be done by Congress through the legislative process and not by a Federal agency. Any remolding of the oath is sufficiently momentous and the process strewn with enough rhetorical landmines that it should be entrusted only to the people's representatives. The other hallowed texts of our republic, from the Pledge of Allegiance to the national anthem, are set forth in statute. No less should be the Oath of Naturalization.
I congratulate Representative Ryun for introducing legislation accomplishing this needed task. I look forward to his testimony and that of our other witnesses.
At this time, are there any opening statements by other Members? I am glad to recognize the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith, for 5 minutes.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will be very brief. I just feel that I ought to say publicly and officially that I have a markup of the Science Committee that began at 10:00, so I am only going to be able to stay here for a couple minutes, and I just wanted to apologize to our witnesses for being here for such a short time.
Finally, I just wanted to thank you for being an activist Chairman and continuing to highlight issues that are important to so many people.
I yield back.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Iowa, Mr. King, for 5 minutes for an opening statement.
Mr. KING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I will try to match the brevity of Mr. Smith. I also appreciate you holding this hearing today and the witnesses and your testimony. My schedule is a little tight. I will be able to stay a little longer.
I congratulate Congressman Ryun for bringing this legislation, of which I am a cosponsor, and I believe that the core of who we are as a citizen needs to be preserved and protected and promoted, and I will do all that I can within my sphere of influence to preserve and protect those core principles that are articulated so well by our Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will yield back.
I will now introduce the members of our panel. Jim Ryun is serving his fourth term in Congress representing the Second Congressional District of Kansas. He is also a Member of the Armed Services, Budget and Financial Services Committees. Prior to serving in Congress, Jim partnered with the Resound Hearing Aid Company, creating his own program, Sounds of Success, aimed at helping hearing-impaired children fulfill their potential.
Mr. Ryun is the founder and president of Jim Ryun Sports, Incorporated, a public relations company where he acted as a product development consultant and actively promoted the awareness of various charities. Jim participated in three summer Olympic games, winning a silver medal in the 1,500 meter run in 1968. Jim Řyun graduated with a B.A. from the University of Kansas.
Mr. Alfonso Aguilar is the newly appointed Chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Office of Citizenship. He joins the Department of Homeland Security after working at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Mr. Aguilar also served as the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He also joined the Bush administration as Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Mr. Aguilar began his career in the Department of State at the Government of Puerto Rico in San Juan, coordinating and facilitating Government efforts to promote international trade. Mr. Aguilar is a member of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Mr. Aguilar received his bachelor of arts and letters from the University of Notre Dame and later received his juris doctor degree from the University of Puerto Rico.
John Fonte is the senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and is the director of the Center for American Common Culture. He organized the Citizenship Roundtable, a joint product of the Hudson Institute and the American Legion to strengthen citizenship and promote the patriotic assimilation of immigrants into the American of life. Dr. Fonte also served as senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education and a program administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
He is currently on the board of the American Council for Trustees and Alumni. Dr. Fonte has served as a consultant for the Texas Education Agency, the Virginia Department of Education, the California Academic Standards Commission and the American Federation of Teachers. Dr. Fonte received his B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. in world history from the University of Chicago.
Dr. Andrew Schoenholtz is the deputy director of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration. He also co-directs the certificate program in refugee and humanitarian emergencies at the university. Before going to Georgetown, he served as the deputy director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, and prior to this, Dr. Schoenholtz practiced immigration, asylum and international law with the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington and Burling.
Dr. Schoenholtz has conducted fact-finding missions in Haiti, Cuba, Germany, Croatia and Bosnia to study refugee protection, long-term solutions to mass migration emergencies and humanitarian relief operations. Dr. Schoenholtz holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Brown University.
Gentlemen, thank you for your presence here today.
Congressman Ryun, the floor is yours, and you are recognized for 5 minutes for an opening statement. STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JIM RYUN, A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF KANSAS Mr. RYUN. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the kind introduction. I want to thank you and Ranking Member Jackson Lee for holding this hearing on H.R. 3191 and inviting me to testify before the Subcommittee on what I consider a very important issue.
The Oath of Allegiance has served as the gateway for American citizenship for over 200 years. When immigrants speak its forceful words, they pledge their unfettered allegiance to America, our Constitution and our laws. The Oath of Allegiance was first used in 1790. A standardized Oath of Allegiance was issued in 1929, and the current, powerful text of the Oath of Allegiance has been in place since the 1950's.
The words of this important symbol of American citizenship and commitment to the Constitution are not specified by law, however, and can be changed at the whim of a Government bureaucracy. In fact, such a change was to take place on September 17, 2003, which is Citizenship Day, the day on which we celebrate the signing of the Constitution. The proposed changes intended to make the language more modern but instead would have transformed an absolute commitment to the Constitution into a conditional statement and thereby weaken our citizenship.
It appears that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services hastily drafted and proposed these changes. Seemingly, they intended to implement the changes without going through the standard 60-day period for public comment. Most concerning are the substantive changes to the text that would have eliminated several forceful words and phrases, substantially weakening the charge to uphold and be faithful to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
Specifically, it eliminates the call to, "bear true faith and allegiance to,” and to, “bear arms on behalf of the Constitution of the United States." The addition of the words, “where and if lawfully required," before the charge to defend the Constitution causes me to wonder when we are not required to defend the Constitution.
In addition, the Oath of Allegiance currently calls on Americans to, “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty," while the proposed Oath of Allegiance renounces allegiance only to foreign states. We should continue to welcome legal immigrants into our country. Yet, as we continue to fight the war on terror, we must maintain a forceful and uncompromising Oath of Allegiance. Many of our terror threats are not from organized geopolitical states but rather from groups like al-Qaeda, led by the likes of Osama bin Laden.
On March 11 in Madrid, we were reminded of the very real presence of organized, non-state-sponsored terrorism aimed at the United States and our allies who are committed to eliminating global terrorism. The threat of terror and the attempts to infiltrate American society have not passed, nor has the need for a strong renunciation against all foreign sovereignties. Now is not the time to water down the words of commitment necessary to become a citizen of the United States of America.
That is why I introduced H.R. 3191, which would establish the Oath of Allegiance as Federal law and give it the same protection as the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. My bill does not prevent the language in the Oath of Allegiance from being modernized or changed. Codifying the words of the Oath of Allegiance is simply a logical step and necessary step to ensure that the Oath of Allegiance is held in high regard and protected from destructive changes.
Throughout our history, our nation has been strengthened by immigrants who came here to pursue the American dream. Establishing the Oath of Allegiance as the law of the land would remind all Americans, recent immigrants and lifelong citizens alike, that pursuing that dream also requires a full-time commitment to citizenship; a commitment unlike what Thomas Paine once called the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot that shrank from the service of his country in times of crisis.
The scores of letters and phone calls I have received from constituents indicate an overwhelming desire to preserve the forceful language of the Oath of Allegiance. Should there ever be a sentiment to change this great oath, however, it should only be done after careful consideration that results in the strengthening of the meaning of citizenship. With the passage of H.R. 3191, such changes would occur only by an act of Congress.
The Oath of Allegiance should continue to support freedom, democracy and Constitutional rights. I believe that we can ensure this for decades to come by establishing the Oath of Allegiance as Federal law, and I urge the Judiciary Committee to pass H.R. 3191 and send it to the full House of Representatives.
And I thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman. [The prepared statement of Mr. Ryun follows:] PREPARED STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JIM RYUN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF KANSAS I would like to thank Chairman Hostettler and Ranking Member Jackson Lee for holding a hearing on H.R. 3191 and inviting me to testify before your Subcommittee on this important issue.
The Oath of Allegiance has served as the gateway to American citizenship for over 200 years. When immigrants speak its forceful words they pledge their unfettered allegiance to America, our Constitution, and our laws.
The Oath of Allegiance was first used in 1790 and a standardized Oath was issued in 1929. The current, powerful text of the Oath of Allegiance that has been in place since the 1950s requires immigrants to say,