Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Michael Chertoff Nomination To Be Secretary Of Homeland Security

Posted on February 15, 2005

I am in support of the President's nominee, Judge Michael Chertoff. He seems to have worked for every part of the federal government, including this body. As Secretary of Homeland Security, Judge Chertoff will play a very important and visible role in our every day lives protecting us from terrorism. But my purpose today is to highlight another job he has. He is also the chief immigration officer. As Secretary, he will also oversee the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services - the successor to the INS - which manages immigration in this country. And this job of Judge Chertoff is not primarily about keeping people out of the United States, it is also about welcoming new Americans into the United States. The numbers are down some since 2001, but as many as one million immigrants become new Americans each year. I've attended a number of the ceremonies, which are held in federal courthouses all over America every month to welcome and naturalize these new citizens. I was at one in Nashville in December. Fifty or 60 people were there of all backgrounds. Judge Echols administered the Oath of Allegiance - an oath which requires each new American to renounce any old allegiance and swear a new one to the United States of America. Each one of these new citizens had waited at least 5 years. They've learned English. They've learned something about United States history. They've proved they are of good character. Many new citizens have tears in their eyes as they recite that oath. It is inspiring to see. Each of these new citizens brings a new background and cultural traditions to the rich fabric of the American life. That increases our magnificent diversity. But diversity is not our most important characteristic. Jerusalem is diverse, the Balkans are diverse, Iraq is diverse - a lot of the world is diverse. What is unique about the United States of America is that we take all that diversity and make ourselves into one country. We're able to say we're all Americans. We do that because we unify with principles and values in which we all believe: liberty, equality, and rule of law. It also helps that we all speak a common language. It's hard to be one people if you can't talk with one another. Yet many of these new citizens, and many others living in this country, lack a solid grasp of our common language or a clear understanding of our history and civic culture. Without proficiency in English, our common language, and an understanding of our history and values, immigrants will find it difficult to integrate themselves into our American society. My hope today is that Judge Chertoff does a magnificent job in his role of preventing terrorism. My hope also is that he does a good job of keeping out of this country people who are not legally suppose to be here. Equally important is Secretary Chertoff's role in welcoming the citizens of this country, helping them learn our history and our common language, helping all of us remember those principles that unite as one country. That is a part of the Department of Homeland Security. It is of increasing interest to members of the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to working with Judge Chertoff in his new role, and I support his nomination.