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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







Americanization and Integration of Immigrants


Declaration of Principles and Values
USCIR 1997


Immigration to the United States has created one of the world's most successful multiethnic nations. We believe these truths constitute the distinctive characteristics of American nationality:

  • American unity depends upon a widely-held belief in the principles and values embodied in the American Constitution and their fulfillment in practice: equal protection and justice under the law; freedom of speech and religion; and representative government;
  • Lawfully admitted newcomers of any ancestral nationality —without regard to race, ethnicity, or religion truly become Americans when they give allegiance to these principles and values;
  • Ethnic and religious diversity based on personal freedom is compatible with national unity; and
  • The nation is strengthened when those who live in it communicate effectively with each other in English, even as many persons retain or acquire the ability to communicate in other languages.

As long as we live by these principles and help newcomers to learn and practice them, we will continue to be a nation that benefits from substantial but well-regulated immigration. We must pay attention to our core values, as we have tried to do in our recommendations throughout this report. Then, we will continue to realize the lofty goal of E Pluribus Unum.2


The Commission reiterates its call for the Americanization of new immigrants, that is the cultivation of a shared commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy and equal opportunity. The United States has fought for the principles of individual rights and equal protection under the law, notions that now apply to all our residents. We have long recognized that immigrants are entitled to the full protection of our Constitution and laws. And, the U.S. has the sovereign right to impose obligations on immigrants.

In our 1995 report to Congress, the Commission called for a new commitment to Americanization. In a public speech that same year, Barbara Jordan, our late chair, noted: "That word earned a bad reputation when it was stolen by racists and xenophobes in the 1920s. But it is our word, and we are taking it back." Americanization is the process of integration by which immigrants become part of our communities and by which our communities and the nation learn from and adapt to their presence.

Americanization means the civic incorporation of immigrants, that is the cultivation of a shared commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity.

The Commission proposes that the principles of Americanization be made more explicit through the covenant between immigrant and nation. Immigrants become part of us, and we grow and become all the stronger for having embraced them. In this spirit, the Commission sees the covenant as:

  • Voluntary. Immigration to the United States —a benefit to both citizens and immigrants— is not an entitlement and Americanization cannot be forced.
  • Mutual and Reciprocal. Immigration presents mutual obligations. Immigrants must accept the obligations we impose —to obey our laws, to pay taxes, to respect other cultures and ethnic groups. At the same time, citizens incur obligations to provide an environment in which newcomers can become fully participating members of our society.
  • Individual, Not Collective. The United States is a nation founded on the proposition that each individual is born with certain rights and that the purpose of government is to secure these rights. The United States admits immigrants as individuals (or individual members of families). As long as the United States continues to emphasize the rights of individuals over those of groups, we need not fear that the diversity brought by immigration will lead to ethnic division or disunity.

To help achieve full integration of newcomers, the Commission calls upon federal, state, and local governments to provide renewed leadership and resources to a program to promote Americanization that requires:

  • Developing capacities to orient both newcomers and receiving communities;
  • Educating newcomers in English language skills and our core civic values; and
  • Revisiting the meaning and conferral of citizenship to ensure the integrity of the naturalization process.


The Commission recommends that the federal, state, and local governments take an active role in helping newcomers become self-reliant: orienting immigrants and receiving communities as to their mutual rights and responsibilities, providing information they need for successful integration, and encouraging the development of local capacities to mediate when divisions occur between groups. Information and orientation should be provided both to immigrants and to their receiving communities.

The Commission believes the federal government should help immigrants and local communities by:

  • Giving orientation materials to legal immigrants upon admission that include, but are not limited to: a welcoming greeting; a brief discussion of U.S. history, law, and principles of U.S. democracy; tools to help the immigrant locate and use services for which they are eligible; and other immigration-related information and documents. All immigrants would receive the same materials. The packets would be available in English and other dominant immigrant languages.
  • Encouraging state governments to establish information clearinghouses in major immigrant receiving communities. The Commission recommends that the federal government provide modest incentive grants to states to encourage them to establish and maintain local resources that would provide information to immigrants and local communities.
  • Promoting public/private partnerships to orient and assist immigrants in adapting to life in the United States. While the federal government makes the decisions about how many and which immigrants will be admitted to the United States, the actual process of integration takes place in local communities. Local government, schools, businesses, charities, foundations, religious institutions, ethnic associations, and other groups play important roles in the Americanization process.


Education is the principal tool of Americanization. Local educational institutions have the primary responsibility for educating immigrants. However, there is a federal role in promoting and funding English language acquisition and other academic and civic orientation for both immigrant children and adults.

The Commission urges a renewed commitment to the education of immigrant children. The number of school-aged children of immigrants is growing and expected to increase dramatically. These children, mostly young, speak more than 150 different languages; many have difficulty communicating in English. They are enrolled in public schools as well as in secular and religious private schools throughout the country. And, in addition to the problems other students have, they face particular problems in gaining an education —often because of language difficulties.

The Commission emphasizes that rapid acquisition of English should be the paramount goal of any immigrant language instruction program. English is the most critical of basic skills for successful integration. English can be taught to children in many ways. Effective programs share certain common characteristics. Based on a review of these programs, the Commission emphasizes the need for public and private educational programs to:

  • Conduct regular evaluations of students' English competence and their ability to apply it to academic subjects. Such evaluations will ensure placement of immigrant children into regular English-speaking classes as soon as they are prepared. Regular evaluation also will highlight strengths and weaknesses in educational programs and provide insight on improvements that are needed to ensure timely English acquisition.
  • Collect and analyze data on immigrant students, including their linguistic and academic performance and the efficacy of the instructional methods used in programs for immigrant children.
  • Include appropriate grade-level instruction in other academic disciplines. Coordination with teachers, curricula, and instruction outside of English acquisition will promote students' mastery of regular subject matter while they expeditiously learn English.
  • Involve parents of immigrant students in their schooling. A characteristic of many of the most successful language acquisition programs is the active involvement of parents in the education of their children.

The Commission encourages programs that are responsive to the needs of immigrant children and an orientation to United States school systems and the community, such as we have seen in "newcomer schools." Newcomer schools must not isolate immigrant newcomers. Instead, they must be transitional and actively promote the timely integration of students into mainstream schools.

The Commission recommends the revival and emphasis on instruction of all kindergarten through grade twelve students in the common civic culture that is essential to citizenship. An understanding of the history of the United States and the principles and practices of our government are an essential for all students, immigrants and natives alike. Americanization requires a renewed emphasis on the common core of civic culture that unites individuals from many ethnic and racial groups.

The Commission emphasizes the urgent need to recruit, train, and provide support to teachers who work with immigrant students. There is a disturbing shortage of qualified teachers for children with limited English proficiency, of teacher training programs for producing such teachers, and of other support for effective English acquisition instruction.

The Commission supports immigrant education funding that is based on a more accurate assessment of the impact of immigration on school systems and that is adequate to alleviate these impacts. There are costs and responsibilities for language acquisition and immigrant education programs that are not now being met. We urge the federal government to do its fair share in meeting this challenge. The long-term costs of failure in terms of dropouts and poorly educated adults will be far larger for the nation and local communities than the costs of such programs. More specifically, we urge the federal government to:

  • Provide flexibility in federal funding for the teaching of English to immigrant students to achieve maximum local choice of instructional model. The federal government should not mandate any one mode of instruction (e.g., bilingual education, English as a second language programs, immersion).
  • Make funding contingent on performance outcomes—that is, English language acquisition and mastery of regular academic subject matter by students served in these programs. School systems receiving funds because of large numbers of children with limited English proficiency and immigrant children should be held to rigorous performance standards. Federal and state funding incentives should promote—not impede—expeditious placement in regular, English-speaking classes.

The Commission urges the federal, state, and local governments and private institutions to enhance educational opportunities for adult immigrants.
Education for basic skills and literacy in English is the major vehicle that integrates adult immigrants into American society and participation in its civic activities. Literate adults are more likely to participate in the workforce and twice as likely to participate in our democracy. Literate adults foster literacy in their children, and parents' educational levels positively affect their children's academic performance.

Adult education is severely underfunded. Available resources are inadequate to meet the demand for adult immigrant education, particularly for English proficiency and job skills. In recognition of the benefits they receive from immigration, the Commission urges leaders from businesses and corporations to participate in skills training, English instruction, and civics education programs for immigrants. Religious schools and institutions, charities, foundations, community organizations, public and private schools, colleges and universities also can contribute resources, facilities, and expertise.


Naturalization is the most important act that a legal immigrant undertakes in the process of becoming an American. Taking this step confers upon the immigrant all the rights and responsibilities of civic and political participation that the United States has to offer (except to become President). The naturalization process must be credible, and it must be accorded the formality and ceremony appropriate to its importance.

The Commission believes that the current legal requirements for naturalization are appropriate, but improvements are needed in the means used to measure whether an applicant meets these requirements. With regard to the specific legal requirements, the Commission supports:

  • Maintaining requirements that legal immigrants must reside in the United States for five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents [LPRs] who serve in the military) before naturalizing. We believe five years is adequate for immigrants to embrace, understand, and demonstrate their knowledge of the principles of American democracy.
  • Improving the mechanisms used to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history, civics, and English competence. The Commission believes that the tests used in naturalization should seek to determine if applicants have a meaningful knowledge of U.S. history and civics and are able to communicate in English. The tests should be standardized and aim to evaluate a common core of information to be understood by all new citizens.
  • Expediting swearing-in ceremonies while maintaining their solemnity and dignity. In districts where the federal court has exercised sole jurisdiction to conduct the swearing-in ceremonies, long delays often result from crowded court calendars. The Commission recommends that Congress restore the Executive Branch's sole jurisdiction for naturalization to reduce this waiting time. The Executive Branch should continue to work with federal judges as well as other qualified institutions, such as state courts and Immigration Judges, to ensure that swearing-in ceremonies are consistently conducted in a timely, efficient, and dignified manner.
  • Revising the naturalization oath to make it comprehensible, solemn, and meaningful. The current oath is not easy to comprehend. We believe it is not widely understood by new citizens. Its wording includes dated language, archaic form, and convoluted grammar. The Commission proposes the following revision of the oath as capturing the essence of naturalization.

Solemnly, freely, and
without any mental reservation,
I, [name] hereby renounce under oath
[or upon affirmation]
all former political allegiances.
My sole political fidelity
and allegiance from this day forward
is to the United States of America.
I pledge to support and respect
its Constitution and laws.
Where and if lawfully required,
I further commit myself to defend them against all enemies,
foreign and domestic, either by military or civilian service.
This I do solemnly swear [or affirm].

The Commission calls for urgently needed reforms to increase the efficiency and integrity of the naturalization process.
The vast majority of applicants for naturalization are law-abiding immigrants who contribute to our society. The value of Americanization is eroded whenever unnecessary obstacles prevent eligible immigrants from becoming citizens. Its value also is undermined when the process permits the abuse of our laws by naturalizing applicants who are not entitled to citizenship.

Recognizing steps already are underway to reengineer the naturalization process, the Commission supports the following approaches:

  • Instituting efficiencies without sacrificing quality controls. In the Commission's 1995 report to Congress, we recommended that the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] and the Congress take steps to expedite the processing of naturalization applications while maintaining rigorous standards.

    Two years later, the naturalization process still takes too long, and previous efforts to expedite processing resulted in serious violations of the integrity of the system. Instituting a system that is both credible and efficient remains a pressing need.
  • Improving the integrity and processing of fingerprints. The Commission believes that only service providers under direct control of the federal government should be authorized to take fingerprints. If the federal government does not take fingerprints itself but instead contracts with service providers, it must screen and monitor such providers rigorously for their capacity, capability, and integrity. Failure to meet standards would mean the contract would be terminated.
  • Contracting with a single English and civics testing service. The Commission recommends that the federal government contract with one national and respected testing service to develop and administer the English and civics tests to naturalization applicants. Having one organization under contract should help the government substantially improve its oversight. Moreover, contracting with a highly-respected and nationally-recognized testing service will help ensure a high-quality product.
  • Increasing professionalism. While many naturalization staff are highly professional in carrying out their duties, reports from district offices, congressional hearings, and complaints from naturalization applicants demonstrate continued dissatisfaction with the quality of naturalization services. Recruitment and training of longer-term staff assigned to adjudicating applications and overseeing quality control would help overcome some of these problems.
  • Improving automation. The Commission is encouraged by plans to develop linkages among data sources related to naturalization. The Commission recommends continued funding for an up-to-date, advanced, electronic automation system for information entry and record keeping.
  • Establishing clear fee-waiver guidelines and implementing them consistently. Under current law, the Attorney General is authorized to grant fee waivers to naturalization applicants. The Commission has received accounts of legitimate requests being denied. Clear guidelines and consistent implementation are needed to ensure that bona fide requests are granted, while guarding against abuse.

2 Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, "from many, one," was originally conceived to denote the union of the thirteen states into one nation. Throughout our history, E Pluribus Unum has also come to mean the vital unity of our national community founded on individual freedom and the diversity that flows from it.
* Becoming an American: Immigration and Immigrant Policy
United States Commission on Immigration Reform
1997 Report to Congress, Executive Summary

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