Citizenship and Choice

As caravans of would-be illegal migrants heads for our southern border, each bigger and better organized than the last; as Chinese travel agencies schedule trips to America for mothers-soon-to-be; as the number of births to foreigners and illegals added to the results of chain migration (a.k.a “family reunification”) make up an ever-growing part of the voting public; and as the Democratic Party stakes its future power on importing a new set of Americans it can control, more and more of today’s Americans are realizing that our immigration system since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 is a political scam.

It is past time we address the question of whom we shall call to join this political enterprise called the United States of America as full members—and why we should be calling them—with the seriousness it deserves. The short answer has to be: that we choose to admit them because they understand, love, and are eager to support what this country is about.

With few exceptions (Indians, descendants of slaves and of the fewer than 3 million who set the country’s character in 1776-89) today’s Americans are people or descendants of people who chose to join this country and its character. Uniquely in history, America has been able to assimilate people of all colors and creeds because these people very much wanted to be assimilated. Many were Americans at heart before they got here. That’s why they came.

My friend, Peter Schramm, recalled his father—realizing that the 1956 revolution against the Soviets was going to fail—telling the family that they would flee to America. Now Peter, who was 10 years old at the time, would have gone anywhere his father asked him to go, but he was confused about why his dad had chosen America, so he asked, “Why America?” His father’s answer is instructive: ““Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

My own experience confirms his. On the foggy morning of August 8, 1955, as the S.S. Constitution slipped past the Statue of Liberty, I stood with a couple of hundred other immigrants on the port rail of the third-class section. There were tears, and not a few sobs. None of us spoke any English. I was 13 and, like the others, had seen America in the movies, had heard stories, and had gone through the extensive screening process. We knew the basics: equality, freedom, opportunity, non-stop work, and utter seriousness. Having chatted with many of the others over the 10-day voyage, it seemed that I was already an American patriot in the company of American patriots.

Had we read what Lincoln had to say about immigrants becoming citizens, “equal in all things with us,” we would have cheered even more than did his 1858 audience: “When they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, [loud and long continued applause] and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together.”

Mutual choice is what successful immigration-cum-assimilation is all about. Joining bodies and souls in mutual affection and support is a matter of mutual commitment, much like marriage. If you’ve got mutual commitment, you’ve got everything. If you don’t, you are just buying trouble.

We had chosen America. But, boy, oh boy! America had chosen us as well. The quota system was just the beginning. There had to be sponsors who were confident enough of us (just my widowed mom and myself) to pledge their substance. Our jobs were already secured, and zero blemishes of any kind had to be certified before the personal screening could begin. Two days of interviews covered personal habits, practices, and preferences, very much including religion and politics. Our examiners spent a long time on our views and expectations of America. I recall an hour answering questions about my Communist uncles, Pietro and Luigi. The examiner was skeptical. But my status in the top tier of the (then) highly competitive Italian educational system seemed to have tipped the scales favorably.

How then are we to think about citizenship for illegals, their children, as well as “anchor babies?”

Lyman Stone’s recent article in The Federalist argues that “Birthright citizenship creates birthright loyalty, whereas denying citizenship to foreign children helps alienate the entire family and slows down assimilation.” This sidesteps the crucial matter of mutual choice. To suggest that granting citizenship to all who are born here encourages their illegal parents, or their “birth tourist” parents “to see themselves as Americans,” looks at allegiance from the wrong end. How is granting someone the status and powers of citizenship supposed to make up for his failure to see himself as an American in the first place? How does satisfying a hunger and capacity for which there is no evidence generate that very hunger and capacity?

In the same breath, but without showing any causal relationship, Stone cites the short time of residence that Canada and Australia require to grant citizenship to immigrants as evidence that easy grants of citizenship make for successful assimilation. But that has it backwards as well: Successful assimilation results from both sides’ willingness to assimilate. Unreflectively, but correctly, he points out both these countries choose carefully to whom they extend the privilege of immigration and that, unlike the United States, neither country allows the uninvited to remain.

The United States might well follow their example, especially that of Australia, which summarily expels illegals. Or we might return to our pre-1965 practice, or even grant citizenship even more quickly to those immigrants we choose to take. Shucks! Americans would have risked nothing by immediately granting citizenship to those with whom I stood as we passed by the Statue of Liberty in 1955. They had chosen us, and we had chosen America.

On the table right now, however is merely whether to grant a share of rule to people, some yet unborn, who we don’t know. It is difficult to imagine something quite so inherently stupid.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit:  Mario Tama/Getty Images

Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).