Integrating Immigrants: Morality and Loyalty in U.S. Naturalization Practice (Working Paper #160)

Susan Gordon. Ben Gurion University, Beersheva Israel

The issues of how to integrate immigrants and ensure the integrity of citizenship have become passionate topics of public discourse and policy debate in recent years in a number of immigrant receiving countries. Behind these debates are often unarticulated questions about how to ensure loyalty to the state and to particular conceptions of national identity among prospective citizens.

These issues have been explicitly debated in the United States since the enactment of the first naturalization law in 1790, which require that immigrants who wish to become citizens demonstrate their good moral character and attachment to the country. This article explores the ways that these morality and loyalty requirements have historically been applied and institutionalized in U.S. naturalization practice, particularly through government sponsored immigrant education programs. It does so first through a discussion of the interpretation of these laws, and then through a case study of the original 1914 Bureau of Naturalization initiative that resulted in the incorporation of these laws into naturalization testing and citizenship education for immigrants. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of this history for current debates in both the United States and elsewhere on immigrant integration.

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