Shorter wait proposed for becoming an American
Apr. 3, 2006
WASHINGTON - Immigrants fluent in English could become U.S. citizens in four
years rather than five under a proposal that could become part of a broad
The proposal by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was at the top of the agenda as
the Senate began a second week of debate Monday on tightening U.S.
borders against undocumented immigrants, increasing penalties on employers who
hire them and on whether to let more than 11 million undocumented aliens stay or
make them leave at some point.
An estimated 7.2 million permanent residents have lived in the United States
long enough to become Americans, according to the Homeland Security Department's
Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The wait to become an American is
five years, three years if the legal permanent resident marries a U.S. citizen.
Reasons that officials give for permanent residents not seeking citizenship
include not speaking English well enough, an inability to pay the fee and not
wanting to forfeit citizenship in their native country.
Alexander says a shorter naturalization wait might motivate more green card
holders to seek U.S. citizenship.
"After we secure our borders, after we create a legal status for foreigners who
work here and study here, the third indispensable step is to help prospective
citizens become Americans," Alexander said.
His legislation would provide up to $500 in vouchers to immigrants to pay for
English courses and grants to groups that provide classes in U.S.
history and civics.
Advocates say long lines of immigrants are trying to sign up for English as a
Second Language classes, but there is little money available for groups that
want to provide the classes.
Tougher immigration issues await Senate action, namely proposals to let
undocumented immigrants work toward citizenship and to create guest worker
programs backed by Bush.
"Part of securing our borders is moving forward on a guest worker program,
because that will relieve pressure off the border," said Scott McClellan, Bush's
press secretary. "It will allow our Border Patrol agents to focus on the
criminals and the terrorists, the smugglers and traffickers that are trying to
come into this country for the wrong reasons."
Also Monday, a Senate panel wrestled with how to reduce a backlog of immigration
cases in federal appeals courts. Most of the appeals involve people seeking
asylum or those who are refugees. The appeals have risen from
1,723 cases in 2000 to 12,349 in 2005.
Sen. Lamar Alexander's amendment is S1815.
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