Shorter wait proposed for becoming an American
Associated Press
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 immigration bill.

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.


On the Net:

To find legislation: