- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard testimony yesterday about a bill that would codify into law the Oath of Allegiance taken by new citizens and prevent changes to its wording unless made by Congress.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Ryun, Kansas Republican, who said he was reacting to plans by a new citizenship agency to “modify” the oath’s language.

In September, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said the oath was being reworded to give it more meaning to immigrants, who read it during the citizenship ceremony.

Taking the current oath, new citizens “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate” and vow to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.”

Although the new version has not been released officially, published reports indicate it would drop the part about bearing arms and replace it with “I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant or civilian service.”

Only minor changes have been made since the oath’s introduction by Congress in the 1790s.

Alfonso Aguilar, chief of citizenship for USCIS, said officials still are working on the new version. He testified that the oath’s language is “legalistic and cumbersome” and “a product of Immigration and Naturalization Service rule making in the 1950s.”

“[It] includes words such as ‘abjure’ and ‘potentate,’ which were not in common use at that time, let alone now,” Mr. Aguilar told lawmakers on the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims.

The goal is to ensure citizens fully understand the oath, Mr. Aguilar said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, said the oath is “the final step taken in becoming a U.S. citizen.”

During his testimony, Mr. Ryun said USCIS acted hastily to change the wording, ignoring the standard 60-day period for public comment.

“The proposed changes intended to make the language more modern, but instead would transform an absolute commitment to the Constitution into a conditional statement and thereby weaken our citizenship,” said Mr. Ryun, noting the elimination of “the call to bear arms.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, agreed that rewording shouldn’t “be made hastily.”

She noted, however, that a 1952 law mandating that the oath contain five elements — support for the Constitution, renunciation of prior allegiance, defense of the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies, true faith and allegiance, and bearing arms or noncombatant service as required — left the wording to those who administer it.

A spokesman for Mr. Hostettler said Mr. Ryun’s bill is expected to move forward. No markup date has been scheduled.

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