House passes citizenship bill for disabled

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 11, 2000

WASHINGTON — Spurred by the plight of a California woman, the House passed legislation Tuesday to allow disabled immigrants to become citizens without taking an oath of allegiance. 

If the Senate agrees, the bill passed by voice vote in the House would open the door to citizenship for Vijai Rajan, 24, of Anaheim. Republican Rep. Christopher Cox, who sponsored the bill, had called the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s handling of the case “appalling” because the woman suffers from cerebral palsy and other ailments. 

“Unfortunately when the system of justice doesn’t work, it is heartbreaking for those invovled,” Cox told the House before the vote. “This legislation also sends a strong signal that long delays and bureaucratic impediments are not the greetings that this great nation would send to its new citizens. I thank the Rajan family for never losing hope.” 

The Senate earlier passed a similar measure from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., so that chamber is expected to approve Cox’s bill before the session ends. 

Sunder Rajan, the woman’s father, expressed concern about the need for a second Senate vote because the remainder of the session is measured in days rather than weeks. 

“With so little time left in the session, I’m afraid if it doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen or it won’t happen for a long time,” he said. “If everybody agrees this should be done, I hope there will be no problem.”  

Vijai Rajan, who was born in India, suffers from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, seizures and Crohn’s disease, a severe intestinal ailment. She uses a wheelchair and receives 24-hour care. She cannot understand, recite or raise her hand to take the oath. 

The bill would allow the attorney general to waive the requirement for the oath for “an individual with a disability, or a child, who is unable to understand or communicate an understanding of the meaning of the oath.” 

Immigration experts say Rajan’s case illustrates a problem facing about 1,000 disabled applicants. Although the agency grants waivers for those applicants who cannot take the citizenship test, it requires that they be able to make a “meaningful allegiance.” 

Two similar cases were decided last year. In Utah, a federal judge ordered a mentally handicapped man be granted citizenship without taking the oath. In Hawaii, a federal judge upheld the INS’ oath requirement. Both rulings have been appealed. 

Born when her mother was visiting in India, Rajan has lived in the United States since she was a baby and has a green card. Her father became a naturalized citizen in 1980, her mother in 1994. Her older sister was born in the United States. 

Rajan’s parents sought citizenship for their daughter in 1994, when she turned 18. But officials denied the application in 1998 and rejected an appeal the following year, citing “applicant’s inability to comprehend the oath of allegiance due to medical certified condition,” according to INS documents. 

The INS hasn’t commented, citing the pending litigation. 

The bill is H.R. 4838. 


On the Net: The bill is at http://thomas.loc.gov. 

Rep. Cox’s site is http://www.house.gov/chriscox/