Statement of Rep. Jerrold Nadler on the Reintroduction of the Senior Citizenship Act

Sep 13, 2003

New York -- Congressman Nadler made the following statement at a press conference to announce the reintroduction of the Senior Citizenship Act, a bill that will help many immigrant seniors become U.S. citizens:

"Today, I am pleased to be here to announce the reintroduction of the Senior Citizenship Act. First, some background on what the current law is, and then more about my legislation.

"Current law states that if you are over age 50 and have been in the US for at least 20 years, or at least 15 years if you are 55 or over, you don’t have to take the English literacy test when applying for citizenship. I believe this is too long a wait for many older immigrants who recently arrived.

"In addition, in some cases, especially for those immigrants who are 75 or older, it can be extremely difficult to memorize facts in order to pass the civics and history exams required for citizenship. Current law exempts some people from taking these exams, but makes no exception for immigrants over a certain age.

"I believe that most immigrants come to this country seeking a better life, and throughout history, our immigrant population has added much richness to our culture, and has been fiercely loyal to this country. Older immigrants are no exception.

"We should not make the standards for citizenship any harder than they need to be for older immigrants, as long as they swear to abide by the laws of this country and join with other citizens in protecting its democratic ideals.

"This year I will once again introduce the "Senior Citizenship Act" on September 17 - which not coincidentally, is "Citizenship Day" in the United States. That day commemorates the day that the U.S. Constitution was signed, and the first immigrants to the New World became citizens.

"The Senior Citizenship Act would:

I. Add a third exemption from the English literacy exam. It would amend the requirement to say that any individual who is at least 65 years old and has been living in the U.S. for five years after their admission for permanent residence would not have to take the English literacy exam. Although, they would still be required to pass the civics and history exams, but this would be done in their native language. And....

II. Those immigrants who are over 75 years old would be exempt from the history and civics requirement altogether.

"I believe that our main concern with older immigrants should not be whether they can memorize who was President during the Civil War, or if they can understand the nuances of the English language.

"Our concern should be whether immigrants, in seeking a better life, are ready and prepared to accept the laws and system of government we live under, as well as live their lives with the same high character that so many of this nation’s immigrants have shown in the past.

"That’s why under the Senior Citizenship Act, immigrants of any age will still be required to fulfill the other requirements, and demonstrate good moral character before becoming citizens. And, like other immigrants, they should take the oath of allegiance to this nation, and its Constitution.

"The history of this nation is flavored strongly by the experience of immigrants, and I truly think that this nation would not be as great if we kept those seeking a better life out. In order to keep this nation’s future bright, we should accommodate immigrants in every way possible to ensure a smooth transition to life in this nation. We should pass this bill, and with your help, we will."