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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why the current obsession with "citizenship"?

It's time to celebrate non-citizens, who are part of (and have always been a part of) our society.


The Supreme Court decision to uphold Trump's travel ban was made yesterday. Critics say it resembles too much the infamous Korematsu Supreme Court decision in 1944 to allow internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. They say both decisions allow a wholescale discrimination of people based on ethnicity or religion with trumped up (pun intended) irrational fears for national security. In other words, both a racism and a denial of human rights in disguise. Supporters of the ban say that it is very different because this ban does not target citizens.

So I'm left to ask: Why is citizenship such a big deal here? I don't understand the current obsession by some on the right with "citizenship." Non-citizens make up a significant portion of our society--and always have. The political right has been making this issue of citizenship into a golden calf. Just like in Ancient Rome, there were many people who made up Roman society besides "citizens." A lot of people contribute and have rights besides citizens. They are not the only people who matter. Citizens are not the only ones who have rights.

Who makes this country what it is? I know many people who live here who are citizens. Some are permanent residents (i.e. green card holders). Some are immigrants in various stages of immigration. Some are temporary workers. Some are here on student visa. Some are undocumented. Some are travelers, wanderers, hobos and homeless.

ALL of them enrich and enliven our society.

For example: Every single university in this country is substantially and significantly improved and enriched by international students. American education would not be the same without them. American culture would not be the same without them. Certainly our academic and technological achievements would be far diminished without them. Yet, they are not citizens. Many only stay a few semesters and some a few years. Still, they have a significant impact on our society, and we should respect them and their role in our culture for it. They should be treated as honored guests. The same holds for the other groups mentioned above. They all make us who we are.

Citizenship matters, but I'm very wary of attempts to make the dividing line between citizens and non-citizens too deep especially as we enter this scary phase in history where Trump has tweeted that non-citizens should not have the right to due process (i.e. human rights). The Supreme Court ruling yesterday is basically arguing along similar lines: It diminishes the rights of non-citizens. That's what it's really about. It dovetails into a larger cultural movement going on now to dehumanize and denigrate non-citizens and immigrants. It is widening the gap between citizens and non-citizens and in my opinion no good can come of this.

Citizens and non-citizens are going to have different rights to some degree and certainly different responsibilities as a matter of definition. But we must be very wary about making sure that whatever non-citizens lack in rights they make up for in a gracious welcome and hospitality by the rest of us to make sure no human rights violations occur. We should honor the place of non-citizens in our society and recognize the significant role they play in making us who we are. This is not happening right now with Trump's tweet mentioned above about denying due process to undocumented immigrants and in this recent Supreme Court ruling.

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