Disabled-Citizenship Bill Welcomed

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Maryse and Pierre Wicker had no trouble getting American citizenship when they arrived from France in 1984. Their autistic son, however, was turned down.

Mathieus, 24, was denied citizenship because he could not understand the oath of allegiance. The Wickers, who live in Mystic, feared for their son.

``When we passed away we didn't know what would happen,'' said Maryse Wicker. ``He could be deported to France.''

Those fears were eased when the Senate gave final congressional approval Thursday to legislation allowing disabled immigrants to become citizens without taking the oath of allegiance. President Clinton supports the bill, which would offer citizenship to about 1,000 immigrants a year whose disabilities prevent them from reciting the oath.

``I have this great relief from my shoulders,'' Maryse Wicker said Monday. ``We just know he is going to be able to stay here. We're all going to be American citizens.''

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., proposed the legislation with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in response to the Wicker case.

The bill is designed to address what immigration experts say is a small but significant problem in the law for immigrants with Alzheimer's disease, Down syndrome or autism.

Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said they can waive citizenship requirements for applicants to pass history and English tests, but the agency is unable to waive the requirement for the oath.

The bill would allow officials to grant a waiver for ``an individual with a disability, or a child, who is unable to understand or communicate an understanding of the meaning of the oath.''

Relatives of the disabled said the citizenship law would give them the peace of mind of knowing that the immigrants can remain in the country after their caretakers die.

Mildred Stallworth of New Haven said she feared that her mentally retarded daughter, Karleen Miller, would be sent back to Jamaica.

``If this bill didn't go through, she'd be sent home to die or be on the street or something,'' Stallworth said. ``It is such a relief.''

Tony Teixeira of Naugatuck said the legal change will help his brother, Jose, who is mentally retarded.

``It almost brings tears to our eyes,'' said Teixeira, whose family immigrated from Portugual in the 1960s. ``It's long overdue.''