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Saturday, December 4, 2010

What is the Value of an Oath

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God". - Oath of Congress.

At the start of each new Congress, in January of every odd-numbered year, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate performs a solemn and festive constitutional rite that is as old as the Republic. While the oath-taking dates back to the First Congress in 1789, the current oath is a product of the 1860s, drafted by Civil War-era members of Congress intent on ensnaring traitors.

The Constitution contains an oath of office only for the president. For other officials, including members of Congress, that document specifies only that they "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this constitution." In 1789, the First Congress reworked this requirement into a simple fourteen-word oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

For nearly three-quarters of a century, that oath served nicely, although to the modern ear it sounds woefully incomplete. Missing are the soaring references to bearing "true faith and allegiance;" to taking "this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;" and to "well and faithfully" discharging the duties of the office.

The outbreak of the Civil War quickly transformed the routine act of oath-taking into one of enormous significance. In April of 1861, a time of uncertain and shifting loyalties, President Abraham Lincoln ordered all federal civilian employees within the executive branch to take an expanded oath. When Congress convened for a brief emergency session in July, members echoed the president's action by enacting legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union. This oath is the earliest direct predecessor of the modern oath.

When Congress returned for its regular session in December 1861, members who believed that the Union had as much to fear from northern traitors as southern soldiers again revised the oath, adding a new first section known as the "Ironclad Test Oath." The war-inspired Test Oath, signed into law on July 2, 1862, required "every person elected or appointed to any office — under the Government of the United States — excepting the President of the United States to swear or affirm that they had never previously engaged in criminal or disloyal conduct. Those government employees who failed to take the 1862 Test Oath would not receive a salary; those who swore falsely would be prosecuted for perjury and forever denied federal employment.

The 1862 oath's second section incorporated a more polished and graceful rendering of the hastily drafted 1861oath. Although Congress did not extend coverage of the Ironclad Test Oath to its own members, many took it voluntarily. Angered by those who refused this symbolic act during a wartime crisis, and determined to prevent the eventual return of prewar southern leaders to positions of power in the national government, congressional hard-liners eventually succeeded by 1864 in making the Test Oath mandatory for all members.

The Senate then revised its rules to require that members not only take the Test Oath orally, but also that they "subscribe" to it by signing a printed copy. This condition reflected a wartime practice in which military and civilian authorities required anyone wishing to do business with the federal government to sign a copy of the Test Oath. The current practice of newly sworn senators signing individual pages in an elegantly bound oath book dates from this period.

As tensions cooled during the decade following the Civil War, Congress enacted private legislation permitting particular former Confederates to take only the second section of the 1862 oath. An 1868 public law prescribed this alternative oath for "any person who has participated in the late rebellion, and from whom all legal disabilities arising therefrom have been removed by act of Congress."  Northerners immediately pointed to the new law's unfair double standard that required loyal Unionists to take the Test Oath's harsh first section while permitting ex-Confederates to ignore it. In 1884, a new generation of lawmakers quietly repealed the first section of the Test Oath, leaving intact today's moving affirmation of constitutional allegiance.

Today there are some House Members like Democrat Luis Gutierrez representing the 4th District on Illinois. Gutierrez, a fierce proponent of rights for illegal immigrants said in a recent interview to Newsweek Magazine; “I have only one loyalty,” he says, “and that’s to the immigrant community.”

Gutierrez has now embarked on his latest campaign: to secure quick passage of the DREAM Act, which would legalize undocumented youths who attend college or serve in the military. With a Republican takeover of the House imminent, the lame-duck session of Congress offers the last chance (for a while, at least) to get it done. It won’t be easy, given the noxious atmosphere in Washington. Yet Gutierrez has already launched a nationwide tour of churches to rally immigrants and their supporters, and has begun rounding up votes in the House. Two weeks ago, he and a few other lawmakers met with Obama at the White House. “We want you to put everything you can behind this,” he says they told the president. Obama agreed to help—by, among other things, placing personal calls to wavering lawmakers.

Gutierrez’s self proclaimed loyalty is not to the Constitution or the people of the United States. It’s to people who have entered this country illegally and by that act have committed a crime against the people and laws of the United States. How can a serving member of the House of Representatives take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and then boldly ignore this oath for his own political purposes. I guess he follows the example of Charles Wrangle.

This is just one small example of the state of politics in the United States today. Elected officials and special interest groups have no loyalty to the United States or its laws; they just want to have their agenda adopted and their political power preserved, no matter the cost to the Republic.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress 18 enumerated powers. One of the powers is: “To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States.” Another enumerated power in the same section gives Congress the authority to; “To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.”

Evidently Gutierrez does not believe he needs to follow the dictates of the Constitution when it pertains to immigration and invasion. We are latterly being invaded by illegal immigrants who are entering the country in search of work or, in some cases, to commit crimes and smuggle drugs. It is these illegal immigrants Gutierrez expresses his loyalty to.

The Naturalization Act of 1906 was the law my grandparents and father entered the United States under. This law was changed by the Immigration Act of 1990 when the requirements for English and the removal of homosexuality as a grounds for exclusion from immigration. After it became law, the United States would admit 700,000 new immigrants annually, up from 500,000 before the bill's passage. The new system continued to favor people with family members already in the United States, but added 50,000 "diversity visas" for countries from which few were emigrating as well as 40,000 permanent job-related visas and 65,000 temporary worker visas. Additional provisions strengthened the U.S. Border Patrol and altered language regarding disease restrictions in a way that permitted the Secretary of Health and Human Services to remove AIDS from the list of illnesses making a prospective immigrant ineligible to enter the country.

In 1995 the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, appointed by Bill Clinton, called for reducing legal immigration to about 550,000 a year. The Commission covered many facets of immigration policy, but started from the perception that the “credibility of immigration policy can be measured by a simple yardstick: people, who should get in, do get in; people who should not get in, are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave.” From there, in a series of four reports, the commission looked at all aspects of immigration policy. In the first, it found that enforcement was lax and needed improvement on the border and internally. For internal enforcement, it recommended that an automated employment verification system be created to enable workers to distinguish between legal and illegal workers. The second report discussed legal immigration issues and suggested that immediate family members and skilled workers receive priority. The third report covered refugee and asylum issues. Finally, the fourth report reiterated the major points of the previous reports and the need for a new immigration policy. Few of these suggestions were implemented

Nearly eight million immigrants came to the United States from 2000 to 2005, more than in any other five-year period in the nation's history. Almost half entered illegally. Since 1986, Congress has passed seven amnesties for illegal immigrants. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform that gave amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants in the country. Hispanic immigrants were among the first victims of the late-2000s recession, but since the recession's end in June 2009; immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs. 1.1 million Immigrants were granted legal residence in 2009.

We no doubt need to reform our immigration laws, but not until we totally secure our borders for at least two years and get a count of all the criminal immigrants in the county. Then we can begin to deal with the illegals in an orderly manner. We do not need lawmakers, like Gutierrez, to be a part of the debate. He has shown his colors and they are Red, Green and White. Of course we can always fiddle away while Rome burns and ban all school bake sales as Michelle Obama has dictated.

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