Republished on VDARE.com on May 25, 2006
National Review, April 7, 1997
THERE is a sad symmetry in the fact that Bill Buckley's obituary of Leo Rosten appeared in the same issue of NR (March 24) as Tom McArdle's follow-up report (" Al Gore's Voter Mill") on the White House's now-notorious damn-the-background-checks-full-speed-ahead campaign to naturalize immigrants, which he first exposed here last year (" Instant Democrats," July 1, 1996). Rosten's The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N is the classic comic account of an Eastern European immigrant's struggle to learn at night school the language and lore of his new country in order to qualify for citizenship. Today, that immigrant simply wouldn't have to bother.
This is the real scandal in the operation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It dates back to long before the special program launched by the INS in mid 1995 to relieve the backlog of citizenship applications (why? what's the hurry?) and its utterly predictable hijacking by Hispanic professional activists and their Democratic collaborators. The rigorous naturalization examination feared by Rosten's Kaplan has long been a thing of the past.
Clinton's immigrant criminals, in the end, are a disease of the skin compared to this disease of the heart. No serious effort is now made to ensure the civic education, and above all the loyalty, of prospective citizens.
Citizenship has become, in effect, merely a license to collect welfare. Last year's Republican reform denying welfare to non-citizens, whatever its other merits, has simply accentuated this tendency in the absence of complementary naturalization reform—such as lengthening the five-year residency requirement.
It is common to deride the INS as an incompetent bureaucracy. But in my personal experience (I finally became a citizen in 1994, nearly a quarter of a century after my first arrival from Britain) it has been effective if impersonal. Understandably impersonal—the volume of immigrants has as much as quintupled in some years since the 1965 Act; and shows no sign of diminishing. Numbers, as always, are of the essence in immigration policy. The INS's problems cannot be understood except in the context of this overwhelming flood.
I realized what was going on when I was sitting in an INS waiting room, trying to calculate how long it would be before I was called for my naturalization interview. I saw with surprise that the huddled masses were actually shuffling along very quickly. Incredibly, it even seemed likely that I would be through in less time than we had been officially advised. This was a unique experience in my interactions with governments. I was about to get a welfare license much faster than I could get a New York State driver's license.
"This won't take long at all," I told the girl next to me, who had just confided hesitantly that she was a Serb.
She began to look hopeful. Perhaps she was worried about the section in the application form that asked, after whether you were a member of the Communist Party (three lines) or involved with the Third Reich (seven lines), "Have you at any time, anywhere, ever ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion?"
Strictly interpreted, this appears to me to describe politics in most of the world. But it does tell you something about the system's universalist priorities. Significantly, there are no queries about whether the applicant has ever acted against American interests.
In fact, I was asked only one question at my interview: did I know what country the U.S. broke away from.
"I guess you know that," said the INS agent.
I said I did. (Mexico! Just kidding.)
She was acting entirely properly. I have a graduate degree from a major American university and a career in New York journalism. She could assume a lot. And she had to get on with that backlog.
But this is quite new. The naturalization system that most Americans fondly believe is still protecting them was developed early this century, partly because of the 1890 - 1920 Great Wave of immigration and partly because of the intense but now-forgotten Kulturkampf against German immigrant influence in World War I. (In 1920, the Supreme Court revoked the papers of a German-American who had defended the sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915.) Throughout this period, radicals were denied citizenship or even had it withdrawn because they were judged to lack clear attachment to "the principles of the Constitution." To learn those principles, working men and women went to night schools—just like Hyman Kaplan—attending courses lasting seven months on average, with classes held almost daily. In 1946, the celebrated British poet W. H. Auden had a notably tough naturalization interview. The novelist Aldous Huxley was nearly flunked because of his aggressive pacifism.
This system seems to have been undermined by administrative action in the last thirty years. (Similarly, those of us with "Green Cards"—resident-alien status—gradually discovered in the early 1980s that we were no longer required to report our whereabouts annually to the INS.)
Some of the results are already palpable. For example, in 1990 the Census reported that nearly a third of the immigrants who had entered the country between 1980 and 1990 and had become citizens were "linguistically isolated"—that is, living in homes where no one over the age of 14 speaks only English or speaks English "very well." Yet until 1990 English proficiency was usually a condition of naturalization.
How clear is these new citizens' attachment to "the principles of the Constitution" can only be conjectured.
Perhaps it doesn't matter. I don't remember much about the Constitution at the Naturalization Oath ceremony I attended. I do remember that the presiding judge, who seemed a nice man, told us that we were now as good Americans as those whose ancestors had been here ten generations and that the United States still had a serious problem— racism. The crowd of maybe 150, including perhaps 20 whites, many of them members of the same Hasidic family, listened impassively. But I don't suppose the woman behind me, who had been openly discussing her intention to send her children back to the Caribbean in the event of another military draft, felt inspired to any greater loyalty.
The collapse of the naturalization system is so apparent that Linda Chavez's Center for Equal Opportunity put out a report last year showing that the absence of INS controls had seriously weakened the screening process. In her March 12 Washington Times column, Miss Chavez was forced to denounce what she calls the "scandalous degradation of citizenship" represented by the White House's Instant Democrat campaign. [ Corrupting the process ... on the cheap]
Miss Chavez espouses the precarious Beltway Conservative Establishment line: Immigration is fine; we just need to work on assimilation.
Yeah. But doctors joke about a test for insanity: Put someone in a room with an overflowing sink and a mop. And then see if he tries to mop up the mess—or just turns off the tap.