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July 4, 2016
By Larry Cary

When a foreigner is naturalized and becomes an American citizen, he or she takes an oath to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”  Unlike any other country on this Earth where it is genetic DNA heritage that defines whether one is part of a nationality or not, to be an American is simply to be someone who swears fidelity to one sole guiding principal, namely, that democracy is good and that in a democracy, the people rule themselves.  No other test is required. Especially not a religious test.

Donald Trump’s view of foreigners, especially Muslims outside and inside the United States is quite different.  He advocates for excluding Muslims and for subjecting resident Muslims, including those who are citizens, to special scrutiny and restrictions.  By suggesting that all Muslims register with the government and be subjected to “profiling” Trump betrays what makes America truly great.

In the Declaration of Independence our Founding Fathers listed the reasons for revolting against the tyranny of King George.  They did so, according to their Declaration, to enable the world to understand the necessity and justice in what they were doing. 

Among the usurpations listed, they charged that King George was guilty of “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners;” namely, that he was preventing foreigners from becoming citizens of the colonies.

Parliament’s Plantation Act of 1740 had liberalized the process by lowering the cost of naturalization and eliminating the need to travel to England to file an application.  Notably, however, the law required seven years residence in a colony and then swearing allegiance to the Crown and to the applicant being a Protestant Christian.

Most of the various colonies had taken it upon themselves to legislate eligibility for naturalization that was more liberal than what was permitted by the Plantation Act.  Citizenship was often needed for being able to own land, and in turn, owning land was needed to have the right to vote.  Foreigners were often granted naturalization in less than the seven years required by the English law. In some colonies Quakers and Jews could be naturalized as they were exempted from swearing to be a Protestant.  In 1773, however, Parliament outlawed colonial measures to naturalize.  And thus, interference by the Crown in the ability of foreigners to become citizens of the colonies became one of the list of grievances necessitating the American Revolution.

Catholics were not eligible for naturalization under the Plantation Act of 1740.  Many if not most Catholics in the colonies descended from immigrants to the Province of Maryland, which was established as a proprietary colony in 1632 by Lord Baltimore as a haven for Catholics.  It did not always remain so under the Anglican Crown.  By the time of the Revolution, Catholics constituted only 1.6 percent of the population of the entire colonies, but they gave great support to the Revolution, serving in the leadership of Washington’s army and signing the Declaration of Independence.

The history of American law and policy towards naturalization has many twists and turns since the Revolution, and some of them are shamefully discriminatory like the Naturalization Act of 1790, which, while permitting naturalization of Catholics, limited naturalization to only free white persons.  And Donald Trump’s recent calls for banning Muslim immigration harkens back to another shameful period, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1888.

Muslims have always been a small minority in the United States.  Today, only about 1 percent of the population is Muslim.  According to Pew Research, 77 percent of Muslims living today in the United States are citizens, with 65 percent of the foreign-born being naturalized citizens.  Muslims came to America long before the Revolution.  Fifteen to 30 percent of America’s slaves imported from Africa are thought to have been Muslim.  They were forbidden from practicing their faith and Christianity was forced upon them.  Since our founding, Muslims have fought on behalf of America in every war.  Indeed, former slaves with Muslim names fought in the Revolution

Because of our checkered history one might argue that anti-immigrant sentiment is deeply rooted in the American consciousness, but America has been and is always at its best when it recognizes that America is a nation founded by immigrants simply seeking a better life.  To quote the words of the sonnet written in bronze at the base of the Statute of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It would be good this July 4th, in the 240th year of our Independence, if people listened to the angels of their better nature and considered just how out-of-step Trump’s views really are, especially since we fought our Revolution against tyranny to enable people from other countries to become American citizens. 

*Larry Cary is a partner in the labor law firm of Cary Kane LLP.  Information about his firm can be found at www.carykanelegal.com.

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