U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today introduced legislation that would encourage legal immigrants and prospective citizens to learn what it means to become American by studying English, American history and government. “As the Senate prepares to begin debate on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, it’s our job in Congress to control our borders and make sure that those who come here do so legally,” he noted. “But it’s also our job to help prospective citizens learn what it means to be an American.”
Among other provisions, the bill would:
Provide $500 grants for English courses.
Allow prospective citizens who become fluent in English to apply for citizenship one year early (after 4 years instead of 5).
Provide for grants to organizations to provide courses in American history and civics.
Authorize the creation of a new foundation to assist in these efforts.
Codify the Oath of Allegiance to which new citizens swear when they are naturalized.
Ask the Department of Homeland Security to carry out a strategy to highlight the moving ceremonies where immigrants become American citizens.
Establish an award to recognize the contributions of new citizens to our great nation.
Alexander introduced the same legislation in the past session of Congress, when it passed the Senate 91-1 in as an amendment to the Senate immigration bill.
“We are very proud of our magnificent diversity in this country,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. “But as much as we prize that diversity, what we prize even more is our ability to turn it into one country. How do you become an American? It doesn’t matter where your grandparents came from. What does matter is that you subscribe to a few principles and that you learn a common language. Those are really the most basic elements of the fragile and important unity that makes us the United States of American instead of another United Nations.”
Cosponsored by Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and John Cornyn (R-TX), the Strengthening American Citizenship Act would “help legal immigrants learn what binds us as a nation,” Alexander said. “As we did a century ago during our last great wave of immigration, we must make a conscious, proactive effort to develop an ‘American Citizenship Agenda.’ The experience of other nations now struggling to assimilate their own immigrants should serve as a powerful reminder that a melting pot does not stir itself.”
As part of his “American Citizenship Agenda,” Alexander also outlined the following proposals which he says he will pursue during the immigration debate:
Establishing State Citizenship Advisory Boards in a limited number of states to help coordinate federal, state, and local efforts towards helping immigrants learn English and American history and civics education.
Creating an employer tax credit for businesses that help their employees learn English.
Requiring a demonstration of English language proficiency when an individual renews their Green Card.
Establishing a Presidential award for companies that go above and beyond in bringing their employees together as Americans.
Asking for the Government Accountability Office to study the need and cost of lawful permanent residents not having proficiency in English.
Alexander is a former U.S. Secretary of Education and sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.