Adopted by the General Assembly
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
October 29-November 2, 1997 Dallas

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20) The biblical term ger, translated here as stranger, is in context properly understood as resident one of four groups singled out as deserving of our special concern and protection. The omnibus welfare reform act of 1996 ignores this mandate and denies resident aliens benefits that are granted to those who are citizens, undermining God's commandment that we accord the stranger equal treatment before the law. While condemning this distinction and pledging to work to eliminate it, we recognize our obligation to minimize the impact of the cutoff of benefits on immigrant families, and therefore affirm our commitment to facilitating naturalization efforts.

Following the passage of the omnibus welfare reform act, the number of citizenship applications has more than tripled, reaching over one million applications in 1996. Inevitably, this rise in applications has seriously complicated the naturalization process. In an effort to alleviate a backlog of applications, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initiated Citizenship USA, a program which increased its staff, improved its technology, and streamlined procedures. In addition, INS began to out-source its services to community non-profit organizations, allowing these organizations to assist applicants and administer the INS citizenship exam.

However, Citizenship USA has fallen under attack. Some members of Congress have claimed that Citizenship USA was motivated by election year an administration effort to speed up and simplify naturalization to gain immigrants' votes. The same critics denounce out-sourcing, fearing fraudulent applications, cheating on exams, and improprieties by service providers. Furthermore, there has been recent controversy regarding the naturalization of immigrants before the FBI has completed criminal record checks. The Fiscal Year 1998 bipartisan budget agreement seeks to ameliorate many of the provisions of the welfare act harshest to legal immigrants and refugees. The budget agreement restores SSI and/or Medicaid eligibility to legal immigrants who are current recipients of either program and to those individuals who were in the US on August 22, 1996 and subsequently become disabled. Despite this positive action, other classes of legal immigrants remain ineligible for most federally funded programs until they naturalize.

In addition to the Citizenship USA initiative, the required citizenship civics exam has become the center of controversy. Many politicians fear that the INS is too lenient in its methods of granting citizenship, arguing that the test questions are too simple and do not adequately measure an immigrant's understanding of the way our government functions. Furthermore, detractors have argued that many test-takers do not demonstrate an adequate level of proficiency in basic written and oral English.

THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Urge Congress to address problems created by the increasing backlog in processing citizenship applications by:
    • Supporting the continuation of out-sourcing its naturalization services to community-based organizations, with proper safeguards to ensure against fraud and misuse of power;
    • Supporting efforts to increase FBI resources to assist in processing immigrants' criminal and fingerprint checks;
  2. Recognize the difficulties faced by immigrants seeking citizenship in the United States and urge, therefore, that any reform made to the required civics and English proficiency exams be made in full consultation with immigrant organizations, service providers, and others involved in the naturalization process;
  3. Call upon UAHC congregations to join with local federations, community relations councils, and other organizations to offer their assistance and help provide tutoring and other services to immigrants seeking to become naturalized citizens;
  4. Call upon UAHC congregations to assist in finding alternative sources of funding and care for those immigrants with mental and physical disabilities who are unable to naturalize and, thus, are ineligible to receive most federal benefits; and
  5. Oppose any legislation to further restrict eligibility for citizenship.