President Bush's Citizenship Exam:
Immigrants studying to become citizens might find that theory about rights isn't always put into practice.
The Roanoke Times (MCT)
November 26, 2006
Nov. 26--Fanciers of irony might enjoy the juxtaposition of two recent news accounts.
Item 1: The U.S. government wishes to enter into a more meaningful relationship with its immigrants by changing its citizenship exam to exclude trivia (Who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner?) and to include questions that measure their grasp of democracy and the rights they will enjoy.
Item 2: President Bush decides that he can round up an immigrant living lawfully in say Peoria, Ill., lock him away indefinitely, declare him an enemy combatant without a hearing or declaration other than presidential insistence, and cut off due process rights to the court.
The president has a new interpretation of the new law -- that is being and should be challenged in the courts -- meant to establish guidelines for handling prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Justice Department says that this also pertains to immigrants. They can be arrested in the United States, held on U.S. soil and jailed indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism without the right to challenge it in court.
For now this law is being applied to one man, Ali Saleh Kahla Al-Marri of Qatar, but in theory it could be used to round up any of the millions of aliens in the U.S.
Al-Marri might be a sleeper cell member of al-Qaida as the government suspects. Or he might just have had the misfortune to re-enter the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, with his wife and five children to attend his alma mater, Bradley University, to obtain a master's degree.
It all could have been sorted out long ago. In fact the government had indicted him and a trial date was set. But when defense attorneys tried to gain permission to speak freely with him, Justice lawyers -- under presidential orders -- withdrew the charges and turned him over to the Department of Defense in May 2003, which locked him away in a South Carolina military brig. As an "enemy combatant," Bush's catch-all category, Al-Marri is stripped of the rights aliens generally enjoy to contest their detention through federal court.
So when immigrants aspiring to become naturalized citizens are asked the manner in which the supreme law of the land can be changed, they should be forgiven if they fail to cite the amendment process, and answer instead: When an authoritarian executive so chooses and a weak-willed Congress allows him.