My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WASHINGTON, Friday—Yesterday evening the President and I actually had a meal without any guests, but immediately afterwards there was a meeting with the usual people waiting for him. This morning, Miss Thompson and I are taking the train for New York City, where I have a number of appointments in the late afternoon.

Again in my mail the perennial question has cropped up of the method by which we induct aliens into citizenship. In many places, at last, there is recognition not only of the importance of the coming-of-age of American citizens, when they undertake the important responsibility of their first vote, but of the ceremony in the courts when a new citizen, who has been a native of some other land, finally achieves his citizenship here. More and more, both of these occasions are becoming ceremonies of real moment. I am glad to see that happen, for I do not think anything should be omitted which impresses upon us the weight of responsibility which lies constantly on the shoulders of us who are citizens of a Democracy.

This particular letter deals with a subject which covers the situation for the alien before he is finally accepted: "I thought I would write you about the painful ordeal that so many worthwhile aliens have to go through before they may become American citizens. I have often heard people talk about it, but never realized it thoroughly until I began to apply for papers myself. It is not for people like myself that I plead, but for a elderly people who never had much education, and for people who suffer from extreme nervousness, people who simply cannot retain anything they read because of the kind of life they have had to lead has given them no opportunity to use their memories or brains. It is understandable that the Justice Department should require everyone to take 20 lessons in American History and Government, and then take and pass a written examination.

"That is surely an ordeal, but on top of that, many hundreds of people fail, because they go all to pieces when they have to answer questions in court in public. They never know the type of questions that may be asked, and you know how much must be memorized, in order to be able to answer any questions that may be asked at random by the judge.

"Why should citizenship in a free country depend on a good memory? Why should more stress be put on the ability to assimilate the laws and history of a big country, than on the past record of an applicant? Only yesterday, I talked to a good, kindly woman who has a son serving in the British Ambulance Corps in Egypt, and has another son in the American Navy. She has been in this country 20 years, yet after attending school at great inconvenience last winter, she was unable to specify to the clerk at the Immigration Station the ten points in the Bill of Rights. She was told to go back to school again."

Perhaps with a little more thought, we can find some way of testing people for citizenship. How many of you, offhand, can name the ten points in the Bill of Rights?

E. R.

Copyright, 1942, by United Feature Syndicate

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, August 1, 1942

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.