On Friday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, reintroduced the Senior Citizenship Act in order to help elderly immigrants become citizens. For many older immigrants without extensive knowledge of the English language, the current waiting periods and exams required for citizenship have proved onerous. This legislation would take into account the difficulties particular to older immigrants in regard to waiting periods and exam requirements for citizenship.
“This commonsense bill would remove unnecessary hurdles for elderly immigrants who are seeking to become U.S. citizens,” said Nadler. “The Senior Citizenship Act is designed to make it easier for seniors, who may have trouble learning English or memorizing facts about American history, to become citizens if they are otherwise eligible. In my district in Brooklyn and Manhattan, in particular, there are many elderly immigrants who are unable to attain citizenship though they have thoroughly committed themselves to their adopted homeland.”
In order to become an American citizen, most immigrants must pass an exam on English and an exam on history and civics, among other requirements. However, if an immigrant is over the age of 50 and has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least 20 years, or at least 15 years if over the age of 55, under current law they do not have to take the English literacy test when applying for citizenship. They do have to take the history and civics test, but it can be done in their native language. Additionally, if they are over the age of 60 and have been a lawful permanent resident in the United States for at least 20 years, they can take a simplified version of the history and civics test in their own language.
Unfortunately, these existing exemptions do not help elderly immigrants who have come to this country recently and speak little or no English. And, in some cases, especially for recent immigrants who are older than 75, it can be extremely difficult to memorize facts in order to pass the required history and civics exam.
The Senior Citizenship Act addresses these two problems by adding two additional exemptions to current requirements:
· First, it would exempt immigrants who are over 65 years old and have been lawful permanent residents of the United States for at least five years from having to take the English literacy exam. They still would be required to pass the civics and history exam, but this could be done in their native language.
· Second, it would exempt immigrants who are over 75 years old and have been lawful permanent residents of the United States for at least five years from having to take the history and civics exam altogether.