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How should the United States welcome immigrants?
Should newcomers be free to come at will?
Will they be loyal to American institutions and values?
Should they speak English? Are diverse cultures a strength or a weakness?
The debate over paths to citizenship is in the news today, but it was also a question that the United States wrestled with as a new nation.
In this imagined conversation, Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state, considers immigration policy with George Washington, the first president.
The United States passed the first naturalization in law in 1790. It required that an alien applying for citizenship:
• be a “free white person”
• have lived in the U.S. for two years, and one year in their place of application
• prove that they are “a person of good character”
• take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution
Being American is not about identifying with a particular race, creed or color. It’s about buying into the idea of America, the freedoms and values that we cherish.
What’s the best way to guarantee that newcomers understand and share those ideals?