My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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One of my correspondents has drawn to my attention certain disabilities which a naturalized American citizen suffers from just because he is not a native-born American. I sent the letter to the American Civil Liberties Union and was very much interested in the answer they sent me. I quote that answer, in part, here because I think we are apt to think there are no discriminations in this country except for race and religion while, as a matter of fact, our naturalized citizens do suffer under a number of real restrictions.

"At the outset, I state the American Civil Liberties Union is unalterably opposed to any distinction between naturalized and native-born citizens and considers all such distinctions unconstitutional, with the sole exception of the constitutional requirement that the President of the U. S. must be native-born.

"There is now pending a legal challenge in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia of the provision of the law which provides that a naturalized citizen loses his citizenship if he goes to his homeland and remains there for a period of three years or remains anywhere abroad for a continuing period of five years. We are participating in this challenge. This matter has never been decided by the U. S. Supreme Court.

"The theory behind this requirement is that it will reduce friction with foreign governments in cases where naturalized citizens are reclaimed as citizens by their former country of allegiance when they return there. I assume that this theory had some practical validity in earlier days when there was large-scale return to the homeland after the naturalized citizen had accumulated sufficient funds.

"Many such returnees had no real intention of ever coming back to the U. S. but used their American citizenship to avoid citizenship obligations in the country of their renewed residence. The problem was further complicated by the fact that if their children were properly registered with the American consulate they could claim American citizenship, even though they had never been here nor ever intended to come here. The latter problem has been taken care of by other provisions of the immigration law.

"The legal justification for this automatic denaturalization is based on the theory that the sovereign (in this case, the Congress) has the absolute right to determine who may enter the country and under what conditions, and can determine who may be naturalized and impose whatever conditions it chooses upon such naturalization. The Supreme Court, in other context, has said that there can be no such thing as second-class citizenship in the U.S. We hope, and believe, it will say the same in this case and strike down this provision of the law.

"Congress, itself, has been slowly eroding some of the more onerous aspects of it. For example, it early made provision for those persons who were over 60 years of age, recognizing a natural desire of older people to return to the place of their birth. It later made provisions for persons who had remained in the U.S. for 25 years since naturalization.

"Most recently, last August, it reduced this 25-year period to 15 years subsequent to naturalization, and also provided that a naturalized citizen could not lose his citizenship by remaining abroad if he had been living in the U.S. for 15 years prior to attaining the age of 21; and there have been various other exceptions made for American veterans, etc.

"I have written in this detail because I want you to know that many responsible persons are concerned about this anomaly in a democracy and are trying to eliminate it. Unfortunately, most native-born citizens are not aware of its existence."

E.R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL