WASHINGTON (September 16, 1999) -- A new statement by the Bishops' Migration Committee, released to coincide with Friday's National Citizenship Day, calls for the appropriation of funds to help alleviate a huge backlog of naturalization applications, and recommits the Catholic Church in the United States to a public-private partnership to make the system fair and efficient.
From Newcomers to Citizens: All Come Bearing Gifts states that immigrants, and their diversity of cultures and languages, are each an "indispensable thread that, together, make up the rich fabric of the United States of America."
"As many today work to achieve the 'American dream' defined in economic terms, citizenship represents the 'American dream' to many who arrive on our shores to flee persecution, join close family members, or otherwise search for a better life for themselves and their families," the Committee said.
The Bishops clearly note that while government standards for becoming a naturalized citizen should be high, they should not be unreasonable. The current requirements are "time-tested," they said, and have worked well to ensure that applicants embrace the values and laws of the United States.
"They should not be changed," they said.
Specifically, they said some proposals introduced in Congress in recent years to raise the bar for naturalization would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for many deserving immigrants to attain citizenship. And proposals for a constitutional amendment which would deny citizenship to individuals born in the United States, regardless of their parents' alienage or status, are particularly disturbing.
"The denial of birthright citizenship would not only contravene more than a century of U.S. constitutional principle ... but also would marginalize new generations of individuals living in the United States and increase racial and ethnic tensions in our nation," the Committee said.
While raising the requirements for naturalization would create unacceptable new impediments to citizenship for migrants, according to the Bishops, the current two-year backlog of applications poses another problem they fear will discourage eligible applicants from seeking citizenship.
Fees collected from applicants by the Immigration and Naturalization Service are being diverted to other INS functions not related to naturalization, the Bishops said, contributing to the current backlog of more than 1.8 million applications nationwide. They called on elected officials to consider supplementing fees for naturalization with appropriated funds.
"Justice dictates that those who have lived in our country, contributed to our communities, and otherwise met time-tested standards for citizenship, should have the opportunity to naturalize in a fair and timely manner," said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden (NJ), Chairman of the Migration Committee in releasing the statement.
He said the statement also firmly recommits the Church in the United States to assist both newcomers in becoming citizens and the government in making the naturalization process work as fairly and efficiently as possible. Nonprofit organizations, like Church agencies, can be instrumental in making essential services like legal counseling, screening, and case management available to applicants. At the same time, providing these services eases some of the burden on government agencies.
"We urge the INS to continue to seek ways to partner with nonprofit community groups experienced with immigrant communities in order to improve services to those undertaking the naturalization process," the Committee said.
Many immigrants have lived in the United States for many years, paid taxes, started families, and have been contributing members of their communities, the Bishops said. They generally embrace the responsibilities associated with citizenship and welcome the opportunity to enjoy the full rights of U.S. citizens.
"Naturalization represents an opportunity for all to contribute effectively and wholly to our multicultural society," the Committee said. "As citizens, we have a responsibility to assist those who qualify also to take advantage of the opportunity to become U.S. citizens."
NOTE: The full text of From Newcomers to Citizens: All Come Bearing Gifts is available upon request. It may also be obtained on the World Wide Web at: www.nccbuscc.org/mrs/citizenship.shtml