President Clinton signed the Disability Oath Waiver into law which will permit the Attorney General to allow aliens with certain disabilities to be naturalized without taking the oath of allegiance. Many immigrants are prevented by disabilities from taking the oath of allegiance, which is a requirement to be granted citizenship. Although the Immigration and Naturalization Service has the authority to waive citizenship requirements for the history and English tests (disability-based waiver), they cannot waive the oath of allegiance. The disability-based waiver requires that the applicant have either a permanent physical disability, mental impairment, or learning disability which prevents them from learning English and the 100 U.S. history and civics questions, but does not excuse applicants from participating in the mandatory oath ceremony.
Aliens are required to demonstrate the ability to take a meaningful oath. This includes the ability to show they understand the meaning of the oath with a verbal response, nod of the head, blink of the eye or other visible signal. The bill allows the Service to grant waivers for disabled persons or for children who are unable to comprehend or communicate knowledge of the meaning of the oath.
The new oath waiver, which became effective on Monday, November 6, 2000, was prompted by numerous individual cases in which immigrants were incapable of either reciting or understand the oath of allegiance because of a disability or disease. Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed the legislation in response to some of those cases.
Although the oath problem may represent only a small percentage of aliens seeking naturalization, the predicament is quite significant for those applicants who are suffering from qualifying ailments such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, downs syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and many others.
The legislation (S. 2812) will affect approximately 1,000 immigrants per year who were previously barred from citizenship because of an inability to understand and respond to the oath. Now that the law has passed, certain immigrants, who would otherwise qualify for citizenship, will be given the opportunity to submit an oath waiver. The new law will only include naturalization applications filed on or after November 6, 2000.