A HODGEPODGE OF HUMANITY, 260 strong-red and yellow, black and white-stood before a judge on a rainy day in Baltimore, reciting a pledge of single-minded allegiance: "I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince or potentate, state or sovereignty... "
Onlookers watched, spines tingling, as the oath grew ever more serious: "... that I will support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic ... that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law ... that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, so help me God."
Moments later, the auditorium erupted in applause and the newly minted Americans turned the place into a gigantic kiss-and-cry zone. New citizens sworn in-like Thavisith Boriboune, a slender Buddhist whose job is installing insulation in Baltimore neighborhoods-spoke happily of their changed status. Mr. Boriboune arrived in the United States with his parents as a little boy, fleeing the communists of Laos. "I always wanted to be a citizen," he confided, but he failed the citizenship test a few years ago. This time, he said with a smile, he passed it.
The scene was sweet and moving. But if disturbing new trends hold steady, the citizenship ceremony may increasingly become a ritual of irrelevance, a setting for counterfeit commitment.
Leading academics are demanding that the United States stop asking new citizens to "commit." They want to drop the requirement that naturalized Americans renounce allegiance to all other nations. In The Wall Street Journal, law professors Peter Schuck and Peter Spiro recently argued in favor of allowing new citizens to retain old loyalties, and in 1998 Mexico passed a law enabling Americans of Mexican descent to retain or regain Mexican nationality. Countries such as Ireland and the Dominican Republic "no longer denationalize their emigrants when they naturalize here," Profs. Schuck and Spiro noted.
But how can immigrants promise complete allegiance and fidelity to the United States while retaining citizenship and even holding public office in the country they (theoretically) left behind? More ominously, in the event of a war-say, between the United States and Iraq-which country would "dual citizens" from Iraq side with?
One immigration expert says they shouldn't be forced into making that choice. Washington University law professor Stephen Legomsky told WORLD he believes the United States should not obligate dual citizens "to take up arms against one's country of nationality," and points out that since 1907, international law has prohibited countries from requiring anyone to do this. But this law has not always been respected. Some 60 years ago, many Americans who claimed dual citizenship with Japan were caught in Japan after Pearl Harbor-and forced to fight for Emperor Hirohito.
While dual citizenship is becoming more popular, America seems to have lost its ability to Americanize its newest citizens-to instill the love and loyalty so eagerly absorbed by earlier generations of newcomers. A study from the 1990s reveals that half of all Mexican-Americans and Filipinos, after four years in American high schools, were less, not more, likely to identify themselves as Americans.
Others seem determined not to assimilate: An Iranian doctoral student at Harvard found that just one of 10 Muslim immigrants he surveyed felt more allegiance to the United States than to their country of origin. That's in striking contrast to earlier generations of immigrants from Japan and Germany and Italy, who willingly took up arms against the countries they, or their parents, came from. Clearly, America is failing to pass on love of (adopted) country as well as it once did.
We also don't ask as much of would-be citizens as we once did. In recent years, the citizenship test has been "dumbed down." It now includes such questions as "How many states are there?" "What are the colors of our flag?" "Who is the president today?" Test-taking guidelines suggest would-be Americans need pass a mere 60 percent of the questions correctly. Even so, some activists want the test eliminated.
If our failure to Americanize newcomers is one culprit, modern technology is another. Earlier immigrants might never again have seen their former country an ocean away. Modern immigrants can easily keep in touch by telephone, e-mail, and cheap air travel-making it harder to permanently break ties.
Today we share a border with the country that sends us more immigrants than any other: Mexico. And some countries, particularly Mexico, see clear advantages to having a base of influence in the United States-having its citizens living here, and even becoming citizens, but retaining loyalty to their country of origin.
As Northwestern University law professor Rob Sobhani notes, Mexican politicians consider naturalized Americans from Mexico "bi-nationals" and even campaign for their votes during Mexican elections. Jorge Amselle, a Latino Republican activist, warns that "The Mexican government through its promotion of bilingual education and of dual nationality and voting is actively subverting the assimilative process of Americanization."
Just why activist immigration lawyers think all this nonassimilation is good is perplexing. Part of the answer, John Fonte of the Hudson Institute says, is that America's legal and scholarly elites see patriotism as cornball. Many view the powerful nation-state as passŽ or negative, preferring an ideal in which we are all citizens of the world.
Some immigration activists also claim that making newcomers learn English is "discriminatory." And they're pushing for non-citizens to have many of the same rights-including the right to vote-as citizens. Louis Henkin, a scholar who writes about immigration law, disdains "archaic notions of sovereignty" and wants to jettison nearly all differences "between a citizen and a non-citizen permanent resident" in all federal laws.
And yet, despite the best efforts of anti-assimilation elites, most Americans say they back patriotic assimilation and most immigrants stubbornly insist on becoming Yankee Doodle/Norman Rockwell stereotypes. According to the research firm Public Agenda, 87 percent of foreign-born parents and 88 percent of all parents agree that "schools should make a special effort to teach new immigrants about American values."
Those polled also agreed, 65 percent to 26 percent, that America's schools are a good place to "help new immigrants absorb America's language and culture as quickly as possible, even if their native language and culture are neglected."
When parents were asked which should be a higher priority-teaching children to be proud of being part of America and learning the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, or focusing on pride in their ethnic group's identity and heritage-parents of all races overwhelmingly chose "pride in and learning about America."
So much for "dual loyalties."
Most of those newly minted Americans in Baltimore would surely have agreed with the majority of poll respondents. Before taking the oath of citizenship, one of the speakers-a grizzled black man named Wilhelm Joseph, himself an immigrant from Trinidad some four decades ago-gave the crowd a final pop quiz on what America is all about. With a huge American flag behind him, and three enormous, candy-striped cardboard letters propped in front of him, he held up the first letter.
"What does the letter R bring to your mind?" he asked in a lilting, Caribbean-accented voice.
"Rights!" the audience cheerfully shouted back at him.
"Rights!" he agreed. "You enjoy certain rights: the right to vote, the right to practice your religion, the right to free speech, the right to criticize your government, the right to protest, the right to change. But R also stands for something else, because where you are given rights, you are also expected to exercise ... what?"
"Responsibilities!" the crowd hollered back.
Moments later, they were pledging to defend and protect America, and singing "God Bless America" for good measure. Zubair Khan, the former Pakistani stockbroker, was a jubilantly kissing his wife and two children. WORLD asked him the same question it asked several other immigrants: Would he be willing to have his young son one day take up arms on behalf of America-even if it were against the country his father once called home?
"Absolutely," he replied.
As President Bush noted in his inaugural address, every immigrant makes our country more American, not less-but only if he embraces our ideals. For as long as the world keeps giving America her poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free-or at least, breathe the air of American opportunity-we must do our best to see that this happens.