I take issue with many people’s description of people being “Illegal” Immigrants. There aren’t any illegal Human Beings as far as I’m concerned.
I didn’t grow up thinking much about immigration. I knew people came to America from other countries, and I assumed the biggest obstacles they had to face were racism and discrimination. It wasn’t until the last few years that I began to understand an even greater threat to immigrants: deportation. Being forcibly removed from your home, ripped away from your family and friends and sent to live in a land not of your choosing–it reads like a dystopian nightmare.
Now, as legislators debate not just the fate of undocumented immigrants, but the future of legal immigration policy, I find myself continually coming back to the same fundamental truth: the very concept of immigration is built on smoke and make believe.
In truth, a country’s borders are nothing more than a social construct. We have no natural right to this land or any other, we have the same right to this land as we do any other. We are responsible for and to these 2.3 billion acres only because someone long ago declared it so, violently and at great cost to our fellow man.
We must bear that in mind. The borders over which we argue are drawn with the ink of theft and delusion.
On the cornerstone of that lie, we have created a covenant of people, a society for which we set rules about how we would treat and care for one another. We’ve decided how we will treat and who will be the least and the most revered among us. We’ve decided how we will distribute and exchange our collective resources. In that sense, we are citizens of America.
Few of us have earned that citizenship. I am “American” by birth, chance, and luck. I’m not proud to be American, because I haven’t done anything to achieve that status. That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful.
America has been good to me. As a white woman, I have been in many ways protected and encouraged by the American system. I have been told that my speech is protected. I have been assured food and some form of housing. In recent years, I have been promised access to healthcare. I have been raised in a culture that trumpets the virtues of individualism and innovation, that purports to believe in lofty ideals of hope, change, and growth. There are men and women who have been willing to die for my right to speak truth to power, vote, and live my day-to-day life in whatever way I choose. As social contracts go, the American one–especially for a straight, middle class, white woman–is pretty damn good.
But again, I think about my citizenship in the same way I think about the fact that my high school boyfriend turned out to be a wonderful husband: the only thing I can be is grateful, because it certainly wasn’t a result of my own foresight or great wisdom. I got lucky.
This is the case for the majority of Americans today. Our citizenship is a choice that was made for us or to us, initially. As adults, we get to decide if we continue in that covenant, but let’s not fool ourselves in thinking that the decision to stay American is any kind of heroic. It is much easier to keep an identity than to cast off or take on a new one.
Knowing that, remembering that, how do we decide who has the right to come to these 2.3 billion acres and join in our covenant? What do we demand of our new citizens? If I came to this position by birth and you come to it by choice, what demands am I justified to make of you?
I am required to file taxes. I am, if I’m a man, required to register for selective service. I’m required to educate my children to a certain degree. I am required to follow an extensive set of laws to maintain my freedoms.
That’s pretty much it. I’m not required to swear an allegiance or master any people’s history. I’m not required to show proof of my earning potential. I’m not required to show mastery of a skill or connection to another member of society. I’m not required to vote nor to educate myself if I do. I’m not required to prove I will contribute more than I take; or that I am in good health and of sound mind; or that I am truly and sincerely committed to my spouse, your God, or any particular definition of America.
I must follow the laws, pay my taxes, and offer up myself or my sons to war. That’s basically it. And all because I was born here, elect to not leave here, and desire to partake in the benefits of our structured society.
How can we demand more of anyone else because they may have been born two feet or one ocean away from a line drawn long ago in some sand? Where is the morality or the logic in holding chance above choice? I can’t see it.
My fellow Americans, I propose we lead with decency. I suggest we be the society we write movies about for our children, one in which we do the right thing, the kind and just thing, with faith that everyone will be better off for it in the end.