Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) introduced H.R. 1614, a bill that would give immigrant alcoholics and drug users an easier path to naturalization. Under current law, “habitual drunkards” and drug convictions hinder the ability of immigrants to become full citizens through naturalization. Rep. Boyle’s bill aims to change that.
The bill will “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide that marijuana use, possession, and distribution may not be considered for determinations of whether a person is a person of good moral character.” In a press release, Boyle said:
These questions are wholly unrelated to citizenship, and only serve to reinforce societal stigmas connected to alcohol and substance abuse. It is extremely troubling to see federal applications like this that continue to use a harsh and antiquated term such as ‘habitual drunkard’. Moreover, prospective citizens should not be penalized for relatively harmless and non-criminal offenses. This careless language only serves to reinforce societal stigmas and misunderstandings about substance abuse, and it is time we modernize the process.
U.S. citizenship is one of the most sought-after statuses in the world. It provides innumerable privileges and rights in the U.S. that other statuses – including legal permanent residence – simply do not. Plainly stated, American citizenship is a big deal. And that is why there are “moral” requirements. They are pretty basic, and they are easily met.
Rep. Boyle’s bill specifically prevents marijuana offenses from negatively impacting an alien’s naturalization status. While social norms concerning marijuana have certainly changed since 1965, it remains a Schedule I drug. Many states currently allow the recreational purchase and use of marijuana even though it is technically illegal under Federal law. It is a ridiculous situation, but until Congress – which Rep. Boyle is a voting member of – changes the drug laws regarding marijuana it remains a federal crime. Aliens with histories of misdemeanor and felony drug convictions reflect criminality, and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is right to take that into consideration when weighing whether to naturalize a green card holder.
The “habitual drunkard” language is obviously a different story. There is no standard definition for a “habitual drunkard,” and so this language creates a situation where USCIS staff interpret different situations differently. Rather than removing this from the naturalization requirements, USCIS should simply update it to include drunk-driving related offenses, which are a national problem. Deaths from drunk driving are a terrible thing. Many of the Angel Families – relatives of people killed by illegal aliens – lost their family members because of drunk driving incidents by illegal aliens.
This is a misguided bill that does nothing to improve our immigration system or benefit American citizens. Instead, it proposes lowering the bar for citizenship, when we really ought to raise that bar even higher to reflect and honor the importance of American citizenship.