MSU president gets political at naturalization ceremony, telling new citizens whom to vote for

The president of Missouri State University this week told a group of newly naturalized citizens to vote – but essentially not for people who dislike immigrants.

“Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t believe that immigration is a positive force today,” President Clif Smart told nearly 160 new citizens at a ceremony Tuesday in Springfield. He went on to exhort them:

“Vote against people who don’t support the inclusive, welcoming America I have been describing.”

Fact is, he didn’t describe them or point out exactly who he thinks is anti-immigration. 

“My comments stand as said,” Smart said in a succinct statement to The Heartlander. “I had no one or any party in mind. No further explanation necessary.”

To the contrary, some observers have taken his remarks to mean people – largely conservatives and Republicans – who merely support a secure border and legal immigration.

If so, is the MSU president equating opposition to open borders with animus toward immigrants? Many in the Republican-majority state legislature whom he relies on for university funding support a secure border. Does that make them anti-immigrant, in Smart’s view?

“I would hope that’s not what he means,” state senator and 7th Congressional District candidate Eric Burlison told The Heartlander. “The very people he was talking to are people that respect the rule of law, that came here legally and obviously love this country enough that they want to become American citizens. I think that’s what we all want to see more of – and want to see an end to those who are coming here illegally.

“People that are coming here illegally are doing a disservice, and undermining the very thing that those people that he was speaking to are doing.”

In any case, is telling a group of new citizens whom to vote for an appropriate politicization of the naturalization process?

Leon Versfeld doesn’t think so, anyway. The Kansas City immigration lawyer – and a naturalized citizen himself – told The Heartlander he’s not exactly sure whom Smart had in mind in his remarks, but that it’s highly inappropriate to suggest to an audience of immigrants celebrating their citizenship whom to vote for.

He said many of his clients come here as entrepreneurs, and are required to invest at least $800,000 and create 10 or more jobs in order to earn their citizenship. In the process, they wait two to five years for the privilege. Other bright young tech workers from places such as India and China also wait years to become legal, he says, while millions of others cross the border illegally with impunity.

Some of the people most opposed to illegal immigration are legal immigrants, Versfeld argues, “because of the fact that they had to hop through all these hoops and follow the law in order to get where they are at, in becoming naturalized.

“The citizens that were sitting right in front of [Smart], each and every one of them had to go through a legal process in order to become naturalized.”

Of that prestigious naturalization process, Versfeld says, “let’s not cheapen it” with rampant illegal immigration – especially for the immigrants’ sake.

“The only person who loses with illegal immigration is the illegal immigrant,” Versfeld maintains. “I meet these people on a daily basis. They’re constantly looking behind their shoulder as to whether or not today may be their last day in America, and whether or not immigration’s gonna pick them up and deport them.”

In addition, illegal immigrants are less protected by labor laws and government regulations, and are infinitely more susceptible to exploitation by the unscrupulous.

“It’s the immigrant that loses when he needs to pay thousands and thousands of dollars on a coyote to bring him over to this country. It’s the immigrant that loses when his daughter gets raped during the process. It’s the immigrant that loses when you do illegal immigration, and you encourage illegal immigration,” Versfeld said.

In contrast to the dim picture of Americans presented to the new citizens in Smart’s remarks, Versfeld said America is an eminently hospitable nation, particularly for those escaping persecution, political strife and war.

“This is a beacon of light,” he says of America.

But one of the main things that make America that beacon is its respect for the rule of law, Versfeld says.

“Absolutely. I’ve got clients from all over the world. That is the No. 1 thing that companies look for when they want to do business and invest in another country: how strong is the rule of law? If there’s any question about the rule of law, then they know that if they’re gonna buy into a business, tomorrow the government may just change its mind and take the company, just unilaterally change things around.”

“I think if you love lawful immigrants,” adds Burlison, “you’re going to show them the respect of not letting others circumvent the system. At the end of the day, we’re a nation that’s governed by rules. If we don’t enforce those rules, then what are we? We’re not a nation.”

As for Smart’s advice to the newly sworn citizens, Versfeld says it’s fine to encourage them to vote – but that’s as far as it should go.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate, and I don’t think that [a naturalization ceremony] is a platform for anybody to dictate who I’m going to vote for,” Versfeld says. “He doesn’t know what their political background is.

“And so, for him to politicize it, it kind of takes away that special moment where people come in to get naturalized.”

About The Author

Get News, the way it was meant to be:

Fair. Factual. Trustworthy.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.