Every year at Natale, my family gathered at my Sicilian-born grandmother’s home for the annual feast that she spent days preparing. The courses included the traditional Sciabbó, a lasagna made with pork ragú seasoned with dark chocolate, and cannoli alla Siciliana. One year, Nona told us that although she still wanted everyone to visit her at Christmas, she had grown too old to continue her cooking tradition. After feasting, we gathered around, and I asked Nona to tell me about the highlights of her Italian and American lives. Without hesitation, Nona answered that her happiest four moments were the three days that each of her children was born, and the day she became a United States citizen.
In today’s U.S., citizenship’s importance is quickly slipping away. Over the decades, the citizenship test has been watered down to the most basic questions with three of the four answers obviously incorrect. Example: “What is the one promise you make when you become a U.S. citizen?” A) Never travel outside the U.S., B) Disobey U.S. laws, C) Give up loyalty to other countries and D) Don’t defend the Constitution and U.S. laws.
Time was that the citizenship test required a reasonable knowledge of U.S. history and civics. Questions about the Federalist Papers and the amendments to the Constitution were standard. No more. In fact, the Biden administration has put the very concept of citizenship under siege. Just three months after his inauguration, Biden ordered federal agencies to drop “assimilation,” and use “integration.”
Assimilation, the process of absorbing new facts and of responding to new situations to conform with the new norm, has long been most immigrants’ goal. Banning the word from the lexicon makes little sense. For new immigrants, assimilation, mastering English and obtaining citizenship are essential for a fulfilling life. Without assimilation, conversational English skills and citizenship, most immigrants will be doomed to low-paying jobs, and will never experience the personal and professional joys that they ostensibly came to America to achieve.
Compare the early 20th century to today. In a long-ago interview with a Hollywood-based journalist, Austrian-born Billy Wilder said that shortly after he arrived in the U.S. in 1933 at age 27, he stayed in his hotel room, listening to the radio to learn English. While his fellow ex-pats met at coffee shops to drink espresso, eat pastries, speak German and reminisce about the old days, Wilder was determined to assimilate. Wilder said he knew he would never return to Europe and was determined to live out his life as an American. After earning multiple Academy Award nominations and winning six Oscars, Wilder died in Beverly Hills at age 95.
Biden must encourage, not discourage, assimilation. With the U.S.’s legal and illegal immigrant population in November 2022 at a record number, nearly 48 million, assimilation is critical. More than 70 ethnic identity congressional caucuses, each lobbying for their individual objectives, underline the need for the U.S. to unify, and to progress harmoniously toward shared ideals. That road, as Robert Frost might have written, is not being traveled.
The president’s failure to enforce immigration laws at the Southwest Border – a curious position for the man who as a U.S. senator voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to build a wall to separate Mexico from the U.S. – will lead to a further dilution between the distinction of citizen and noncitizen. Since Biden took office, nearly 5.5 million illegal immigrants have entered the U.S., including nearly 1 million got-aways, as immigration officials refer to them, from about 150 different nations; they care little about citizenship. Migrants’ goal is amnesty, affirmative benefits and, most especially, the employment authorization that’s part of the amnesty package that rewards illegal crossers.
Woke, powerful elected officials are working hard and successfully to eliminate distinctions between legal and unlawful residents. On January 9, New York became the largest municipality to offer voting rights to noncitizens when newly sworn-in Mayor Eric Adams approved a local act allowing participation in New York City elections. About 800,000 visa holders, deferred action recipients and lawful permanent residents – noncitizens all – will be allowed to register as municipal voters, assuming they have lived in New York for 30 days.
The Republican legislature filed a lawsuit against the act on the grounds that it breaks New York State’s Constitution. Among its other violations, Intro. 1867 bypasses naturalization’s five-year residency requirement and mandatory English and civics tests without substituting a way to acclimate new voters. The city and state impose 30-day registration requirements for U.S. citizens; noncitizens are unlikely to be able to make informed election decisions after living in the city for a mere month. Moreover, opponents argue that granting voting rights to noncitizens disenfranchises citizens’ ballots, makes a mockery of citizenship and discourages immigrants from naturalizing.
Biden, Adams and others are wrong-headedly pursuing policies guaranteed to further split and weaken America. For the woke, the time is overdue to reacquaint themselves with the wonderful, if unofficial, U.S. motto, “E pluribus unum,” from the many one.