Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed on Monday his administration would require illegal aliens to learn English as a prerequisite for U.S. citizenship—a position not backed up by his official immigration proposal.
Biden, who has drawn the ire of immigration activists for his refusal to end all deportation if elected president, told a crowd of Iowa voters one of his first acts in the White House would be to craft a “pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented” migrants. Unlike other Democrat presidential candidates, who have promised to instantaneously naturalize those residing in the U.S. illegally without much fanfare, Biden expressed there would be preconditions attached to his offer of citizenship.
“Like every other person that’s come here they have to pass, they have to learn how to speak English, they have to demonstrate they’ve paid their taxes, they have to…just go down the line,” Biden said, before mentioning a failed immigration proposal he helped author with the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the mid-2000s.
The former vice president made the claim, despite his immigration proposal not including language stipulating illegal aliens would be required to learn English before being granted citizenship. In fact, the immigration proposal that Biden’s campaign released in December 2019 explicitly leaves out any mention of proficiency in the language when discussing its “roadmap” for naturalization.
“Biden will aggressively advocate for legislation that creates a clear roadmap to legal status and citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who register, are up-to-date on their taxes, and have passed a background check,” the plan reads.
The exclusion is perplexing given that the former vice president has been quick to tout his support for requiring illegal aliens to learn English on the campaign trail. In November, while speaking to a crowd in South Carolina, Biden said it was paramount the country establish a path to “earned citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
“So the deal is that if you want to be an American citizen, you got to come out of the shadows… and you get in the process of doing what everyone else has had to do who has come [here]. Learn the language, etcetera, you go through the same process,” he said at the time.
When the inconsistency between the former vice president’s statements and his immigration plan were pointed out by Politico, Biden’s campaign attempted to dismiss the matter, suggesting illegal aliens would need to know English in order to take part in the naturalization process.
“The verbal portion of the naturalization exam is administered in English (except for in very select cases) and our plan offers English language education support,” the campaign stated on Monday.
A Biden campaign official said: "The verbal portion of the naturalization exam is administered in English (except for in very select cases) and our plan offers English language education support."
— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) January 6, 2020
The campaign’s claim, though, is undercut by the relatively lax criteria for granting citizenship. To become an official citizen, foreign nationals are required to pass two tests created by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the first consisting of an English proficiency examination and the latter consisting of 10 questions about civics and government.
The language portion is based, in part, on an initial interview with the applicant, followed by a short reading and writing examination in which foreign nationals are tasked with reading three sentences aloud and then writing one of them. On the other hand, the civics portion entails applicants being asked 10 multiple choice questions about U.S. government and history, of which six need to be answered correctly to pass.
Although these tests are allegedly designed to ensure only those capable of assimilation are allowed citizenship status, in reality the lenient approval criteria results in few foreign nationals being denied. In 2016 alone, more than 60 percent of all those applying were granted citizenship, a figure that likely would have been higher if not for backlog in the system of processing naturalization requests.
Complicating matters, and furthering diminishing the Biden campaign’s argument that illegal aliens need to comprehend and speak English to receive citizenship, is that USCIS grants special privileges to certain foreign nations. For instance, citizenship applicants over 50-years-of-age are allowed to take civics examination in their native language and have the language examination waived provided they have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
As Breitbart News reported in October 2017, one southern California woman was granted citizenship utilizing such loopholes even though she was unable to read, write, or speak English at the time of her naturalization exam. Countless immigrants have followed suit, despite the Biden campaign’s assertion otherwise.
The inconsistency between Biden’s verbal utterances and his official proposal underscore just how much of a headache immigration continues to be for the former vice president’s White House ambitions. Since jumping into the race, Biden has been confronted for his unwillingness to apologize for the Obama administration’s record of deporting more than three million illegal immigrants. He has also been lambasted by the left for previously having supported mandatory E-verify and a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as opposing sanctuary cities.
Biden’s record has remained a controversial for immigration activists, who are increasingly powerful within the Democrat Party’s base. Ill feelings between Biden and such groups has remained heated, even after the former vice president made an attempt at placation by pledging to support free healthcare for illegal aliens. The tension was displayed on Monday, when progressives came out in full force to repudiate Biden for suggesting English should be a requirement for citizenship.
“The way forward on immigration — and the way to beat Trump — is through inclusive, people-first policy,” the progressive group Indivisible said in response to the comments. “Emphasizing English as a prerequisite is an outdated idea that all of our candidates should be beyond.”
Others, such as the spokesperson for former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, were no less stinging in their rebukes.
“It’s time we dispel the notion of good and bad immigrants based on their ability to speak English,” the spokesman said.