Colorado Politico's Forerunner to Donald Trump's Ideological Test for Immigrants

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced that, if elected, he will institute an ideological test for Muslim immigrants and visitors to the United States — or, in his words, "extreme, extreme vetting."

The uproar that followed was undoubtedly familiar to former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who previously ran for president as well as governor of Colorado.

Six years ago, Tancredo backed a civics literacy test for voters — one based on the sort of examination that must be passed by immigrants seeking citizenship

This proposal, like Trump's, was attacked as racist — something Tancredo continues to adamantly dispute. And he doesn't see anything inherently wrong with the Trump plan, either.

"At first glance, I like it," Tancredo says.

Thus far, Trump hasn't provided many specifics about the test. During an address yesterday, he said the questionnaire would seek to unveil “any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law.... Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.”

Trump added that "in the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.”

Under current law, as noted by the Washington Post, naturalized citizens must pledge their adherence to the principles spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, and those who won't, or who seem like crime threats, are rejected — all of which led Tancredo to suggest that America adopt "a civics test for American citizens to be eligible to vote. And what I said that probably helped lead to its failure was that it should be the test we give to immigrants."

He did so, he continues, because "if you come here from a different culture, a different language and all that kind of stuff, there's a modicum of knowledge you need to be cognizant of in order to become a citizen — and that includes learning the English language. But my point was that most Americans would probably flunk it."

Tancredo scoffs at the suggestion that such a voter test would have been a throwback to "the Jim Crow days," when voting tests were specifically tailored to restrict the ability of African-Americans to make their voices heard. For one thing, he notes, "I got the idea from an immigrant" while discussing the citizenship test he was taking. For another, "I was talking about giving it to all Americans: black, white, whoever. And when people assumed that all brown and black people would flunk it, I thought, 'Who's the racist here?'"

He sees a similar dynamic at play in the reaction to Trump's vetting proposal. Not only does he share concerns about security related to immigration from Muslim-majority countries seen as hotbeds of terrorism, but, he says, "I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn't try to preserve the culture we still have, or at least some semblance of it. Because we're definitely in danger of losing this culture. I'm not talking about colors of skin, and race has nothing to do with it. We have assimilated people from all over the world, from every culture, of every color. But that's not what's happening anymore. We discourage assimilation, and that's causing all types of problems."

In his view, "If you're trying to find out if a person who wants to come to the United States is compatible with this culture, with our framework of laws and governments, that seems perfectly legitimate and logical."

Guess Trump passes the test.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts