Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Don't Dangle US Citizenship

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Don't Dangle US Citizenship

Article excerpt

As a tool against terror, the Justice Department plans to offer visas and a shortcut to citizenship to those willing to inform on potential terrorists. The government has long used incentives, such as cash rewards, to solicit criminal evidence from informants. But dangling American citizenship in exchange for information diminishes its significance and sets bad precedent as well.

As part of the Responsible Cooperators Program, the government will offer a special "S visa" to any noncitizen who provides "useful and reliable" information about terrorists or terror attacks. The visa, which some are deriding as the "snitch visa," would allow recipients to remain in the United States for up to three years, during which time the holder could apply to become a permanent resident, putting them on the pathway to citizenship.

The Justice Department and other agencies undeniably need to be creative in rooting out terror, both at home and abroad. September's attacks shook the nation's sense of security, and vigorous law enforcement is justified as a way to restore it. But peddling citizenship as a police tool seems unworthy of a great nation, and may do more harm than good.

Further, the new initiative sits uneasily beside other administration actions affecting immigrants, such as the new anti- terror law, and the numerous interviews, round-ups, and deportations of noncitizens. These practices have unsettled many immigrants and raised anxieties about the future of multicultural America.

The government needs to build trust to be successful against terror. But it is sending a mixed message to immigrants that says, in essence, "We want you as valued citizens, but also as informers, and sometimes as suspects as well." Immigrants would have a right to be dubious of this latest idea.

When permanent residents enter to reside in the US through regular immigration channels, they enter as presumptive citizens. This presumption rests on the value we place on the principles of our entry system - that refugees deserve protection, that families should be united, and that the nation benefits from people with certain job skills. …

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