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GOP should remember: Data show immigrants enforce, not threaten, US values

One sticking point in the House GOP discussion of immigration reform is concern over whether immigrants will be productive members of society. Republicans shouldn't worry. Immigrants outperform native-born citizens on key measures of American values and civic engagement.

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Former President George W. Bush poses with Taofeek Adeyemi Sanyaolu of Nigeria after he was sworn in as a US citizen at the The George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, July 10. Op-ed contributor Daniel Allott says that House Republicans skeptical of immigration reform should note that '35 percent of Americans failed the civics section of the US naturalization test' while '97.5 percent of immigrants' passed.

LM Otero/AP

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A comprehensive immigration reform bill has passed the Senate, but it faces dubious prospects in the House, where it probably won’t garner enough of the Republican support needed to bring it to a floor vote. One Republican sticking point is that the prospective law doesn’t go far enough to ensure that immigrants integrate into American society to become productive, contributing members who uphold American values and are civically engaged.

But there is a rich irony in such concern over whether immigrants will become productive members of society: On several traditional measures of American values and societal productivity, America’s native-born citizens are being outperformed by its immigrants – both legal and undocumented.

Studies show that immigrants applying for citizenship surpass American citizens on tests of knowledge of American history and civics. To take one example, in a 2012 telephone poll, Xavier University researchers found that 35 percent of Americans failed the civics section of the US naturalization test. In contrast, 97.5 percent of immigrants applying for citizenship passed the test in 2012.

The willingness to defend one’s country is generally considered a reliable measure of patriotism. As General George S. Patton once said, “The highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”

Immigrants have served with distinction in the US military in every major armed conflict since the Revolutionary War. And according to the Center for Naval Analysis, the three-month attrition rate of non-citizen soldiers is nearly twice that of US citizens.

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