Saturday, May 11, 2013

Being An American Citizen

Senator Ted Cruz thinks he knows why President Barack Obama advocates a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  He told right-wing GOP spokesman Sean Hannity in April  

I think that is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rules, who have waited in line.  I think the reason that President Obama is insisting on a path to citizenship is that it is designed to be a poison pill to scuttle the whole bill, so he can have a political issue in 2014 and 2016. I think that's really unfortunate.

The Texas Republican and probable 2016 presidential candidate pretends to be unaware that Barack Obama will be on no ballot in 2014 or 2016.   Obama might support a bill which would allow those people whose status would be legalized to become full-fledged American citizens because it's the right thing to do.  

Joshua Micah Marshall was not addressing Cruz's remark but rather the proposal of the New York City Council to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, a bad idea he opposes.   However, Marshall's explanation is, however unintentional, an eloquent rebuttal to the hostility held by the Texas Senator and other Republicans to a path to citizenship.      Marshall, who supports comprehensive immigration reform, writes

I believe in what I think of as ‘thick citizenship’, a robust bundle of rights and responsibilities. Being a citizen of the United States isn’t just a matter of carrying a US passport or being able to vote. It’s much more foundational than that. It’s a commitment to a political community, albeit a vastly large one. And it’s because of that that I don’t think there should be such a thing as dual citizenship. In my mind it’s almost a contradiction in terms.

To me, thick citizenship is really at the root of our equality as Americans. The mix of rights and responsibilities that come with it are what makes the Salvadoran immigrant every bit as much an American as someone whose ancestors have been here for centuries. We’re all equal because we’ve all made the same commitment as citizens. Being an American citizen also matters for how you’re taxed and where you keep your money.

That’s what makes the plutocrat who renounces his citizenship for tax purposes really execrable and someone who I don’t think should be allowed ever to enter the country again.

Particularly as our society becomes more economically stratified, citizenship is the sheet anchor of what keeps us fundamentally equal, at least in key ways. It’s the basis of every citizens claim on the larger national community. If our citizenship isn’t common, what really connects the affluent educated New Yorker who can live or work anywhere on the globe to an impoverished young woman in South Texas with none of those freedoms or opportunities?

If Latin American immigrants maintain citizenship in the countries of their birth, doesn’t that undermine the claim to full equality here?

I know there are other ways of thinking about it. But in my mind, real citizenship and social solidarity makes the commitment of citizenship really important. I don’t want anything that makes citizenship into something more vague and associational like a travel status or one of many transactional commitments you may have here or around the globe. I think everyone who is a US citizen should share that common commitment — fundamentally, be in the same boat.

Now, as a practical matter I know there are people who carry dual citizenship because of very practical reasons like child custody and basic convenience for bi-national families. My wife is probably arguably a dual citizen simply because there’s no obvious way to renounce her original citizenship in the country of her birth. So I don’t see people who have dual US-Canadian citizenship as some great threat to the commonwealth or something or something that we actively need to eliminate. It’s basically a non-problem. But I think it would be a bad thing if it became more pervasive - which is something that I think is possible as the free flow of peoples becomes easier and more common.

Marshall concludes by slamming "anything that blurs the lines of the political community we all (those of us who are American citizens) participate in."   As someone typically favorable to President Obama, hence amenable to compromise, Marshall probably would prefer half a loaf to none at all.  But his assertion "thick citizenship is at the root of equality of all Americans" and "the sheet anchor of what keeps us as fundamentally equal" is a powerful argument against the sort of immigration arrangement which threatens to emerge among Democrats anxious for reform and Repubs dead-set against citizenship for Hispanics.  

There are, broadly speaking, three options- legalization with path to citizenship, no immigration reform, and legalization without a clear, obtainable path to citizenship.  The last is incompatible with devotion to a political community and faith in social solidarity, and consequently the worst.

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