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Veto of Bill To Amend the Nationality Act of 1940, as Amended.

September 09, 1950

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my approval, H.J. Res. 238, "To amend the Nationality Act of 1940, as amended."

When first introduced in the Congress this resolution provided that the right to become a naturalized citizen of the United States should not be denied or abridged because of race. This was one of the recommendations which I made to the Congress in the civil rights program submitted more than two years ago. This proposal has received wide bi-partisan support. It represents a positive response by the United States to a proper demand of justice and human brotherhood. By this means we can give concrete assurance to the peoples of Asia that no resident of the United States will fail to qualify for citizenship solely because of racial origin.

This provision remains as section 1 of the resolution. Unfortunately, the Congress has added a second section, with a different purpose. This new section is supposed to strengthen our naturalization laws by inserting new and specific prohibitions against citizenship for aliens who owe allegiance to present forms of communism and other totalitarian philosophies.

The existing prohibitions in our naturalization laws were intended to exclude from citizenship those who overtly subscribe to the overthrow of our Government by force or violence. In Section 2 of this resolution the Congress has attempted, by the use of much new language, to reach persons who may covertly seek to overthrow this Government, through their association with communist front and similar organizations. However, the language of this second section is so vague and ill-defined that no one can tell what it may mean or how it may be applied. The result might be to weaken our naturalization laws rather than strengthen them. The result might also be to jeopardize the basic rights of our naturalized citizens and other persons legitimately admitted to the United States.

In my judgment, it would be impossible to administer this Act without creating a twilight species of second-class citizens, persons who could be deprived of citizenship on technical grounds, through their ignorance or lack of judgment. If an individual should, at any time within five years after naturalization, become affiliated with a proscribed organization, this resolution would specifically make his act prima facie evidence of lack of attachment to the principles of the Constitution of the United States. It would place upon him the requirement of presenting countervailing evidence to prevent the revocation of his citizenship.

This resolution does not even stop with creating second-class citizens. Where newly naturalized citizens or legally admitted aliens are concerned, it could be used to destroy the right of free speech and the freedom to follow intellectual pursuits without fear of retaliation from a vengeful Government.

These provisions will inevitably produce great uncertainty and confusion in administration. This becomes evident when it is recognized, as it must be, that the resolution fails to define its terms and establishes absolutely no ascertainable standards for their application. Not only is this in violation of our traditional concepts of what laws should do, it also makes it impossible to determine in advance what procedures will be used to prosecute alleged violation of the law. I cannot approve a measure which has these deficiencies.

Our Government will remain dedicated to protecting the freedom, basic rights, and inherent dignity of the individual. We shall not adopt prohibitory and punitive statutes without being absolutely sure that the proposed laws are not a greater threat than the things against which they would provide protection. This is particularly true in the present case since we already have strong laws protecting us against the naturalization of subversive persons. It has not been demonstrated that these laws are inadequate. We should not forget or become afraid to assert our belief that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

I urge that the Congress reconsider this resolution at once, re-enacting it in such form as to preserve Section 1 and to remove those ill-advised provisions in Section 2, which seek to strengthen the Nationality Act of 1940 but which actually weaken and confuse it. At a time when the United Nations' Forces are fighting gallantly to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy in Korea, it would be unworthy of our tradition if we continue now to deny the right of citizenship to American residents of Asiatic origin.


Harry S Truman, Veto of Bill To Amend the Nationality Act of 1940, as Amended. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230231

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