[Marxism] None of Us Deserve Citizenship – NY Times Opinion by Michelle Alexander

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 21 17:48:38 MST 2018


On what moral grounds can we deny others rights, privileges and
opportunities that we did not earn ourselves?

Late last month, 19-year-old Maryury Elizabeth Serrano-Hernandez reportedly
a wall along the United States-Mexico border while eight months pregnant
and gave birth within hours of placing her feet on American soil. She was
part of a widely publicized Central American caravan and traveled more than
2,000 miles from Honduras propelled by the dream of giving her new baby, as
well as her 3-year-old son, a life free from the violence and grinding
poverty she endured back home. She views her child’s birth in the United
States as a “big reward” for her courage, perseverance and faith. As she
Univision, which documented parts of her family’s journey, “With faith in
God, I always said my son will be born there.”

For some Americans, Ms. Serrano-Hernandez’s story is nothing short of
heroic, given the suffering she endured and the extraordinary obstacles she
overcame to give her children a chance at a better life. For others, her
story represents everything that’s wrong with our immigration system.
The Border
Patrol said
Ms. Serrano-Hernandez and her family were released on their own
recognizance. Her newborn is, for many, just another “anchor baby,” proof
that a more aggressive and unforgiving approach to illegal immigration is
warranted and that Trump is right to call for an end to birthright

No matter what side of the debate one gravitates toward, stories like Ms.
Serrano-Hernandez’s highlight the moral quagmire that we’ve created by
treating the migration of desperately poor people as a problem that can
best be addressed by border walls, tear gas, detention camps, militarized
policing and mass deportation — except, of course, for the relative few,
truly “deserving” individuals who may be granted legal citizenship
(typically after years of waiting and hundreds or thousands of dollars in
attorney’s fees) if they can win asylum.

Questions abound: Does Ms. Serrano-Hernandez’s baby son deserve citizenship
because he was born here but not his 3-year-old sibling? Does everyone in
the family deserve citizenship now that one member has been born here? Or
does no one in the family deserve citizenship, even the baby, because the
parents crossed the border illegally?

Answering these questions may be easy legally, but they’re more difficult
morally. After all, none of us born here did anything to deserve our
citizenship. On what moral grounds can we deny others rights, privileges
and opportunities that we did not earn ourselves?

Jose Antonio Vargas’s powerful book “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented
Citizen” wrestles with the moral, emotional and psychological dimensions of
America’s perennial question: Who deserves citizenship? With remarkable
sensitivity to the extraordinarily wide range of people whose lives are
affected by our nation’s immigration policies, he writes from the
perspective of someone who was brought to this country illegally at the age
of 12 to live with his grandparents, leaving his mother in the Philippines.
Ever since his grandfather confessed to him, at age 16, that “you are not
supposed to be here,” he has battled deep feelings of unworthiness and has
striven to earn the right to belong. Yet no matter how much he achieved or
contributed — indeed, even after winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism —
he still had the nagging feeling that he didn’t deserve to be here. Only
after being arrested near the border and held in a cell
a group of terrified undocumented boys who had been separated from their
families did he have an awakening: It was suddenly obvious to him that the
boys huddled near him deserved safety, security and a place they could call
home — a place where they could not only survive but also thrive. If they
deserved such a thing, he did too. “Home is not something I should have to
earn,” he wrote. It’s something we all have a right to.

Many people will sympathize with Mr. Vargas’s story but recoil at his bold
conclusion, as it seems to imply support for open borders — a position that
no Republican or Democratic member of Congress supports or even takes
seriously. This reaction seems misplaced. The deeper question raised isn’t
whether our borders should be open or closed (generally a false dichotomy)
but rather how we ought to manage immigration in a manner that honors the
dignity, humanity and legitimate interests of all concerned.

Reaching for a radically more humane immigration system is not
pie-in-the-sky, utopian dreaming. But it does require a certain measure of
humility on the part of those of us who have benefited from birthright
citizenship. Rather than viewing immigrants as seeking something that we,
Americans, have a moral right to withhold from them, we ought to begin by
acknowledging that none of us who were born here did anything to deserve
our citizenship, and yet all of us — no matter where we were born — deserve
compassion and basic human rights.

It’s tempting to imagine that our position as gatekeepers is morally sound
— since we’re frequently reminded that “all nations have a right to defend
their borders” — but our relationship to those who are fleeing poverty and
violence is morally complex. Not only does birthright citizenship bestow
upon us a privileged status that we haven’t earned; our nation’s
unparalleled wealth and power, as well as our actual borders, lack a sturdy
moral foundation. But for slavery, genocide and colonization, we would not
be the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world — in fact, our nation
would not even exist. This is not hyperbole; it’s history. There’s good
reason some Mexicans say: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed
us.” That is, in fact, what happened

< https://www.history.com/news/texas-mexico-border-history-laws>

Of course, it can be argued that virtually all modern nation-states were
created through violence, exploitation and war. But we claim to be unlike
most nation-states; indeed, we insist that we’re “exceptional.” We are the
only nation that advertises itself as “a nation of immigrants” and the
“land of the free,” an advertising campaign complete with a Statute of
Liberty whose pedestal includes a plaque of a poem that reads in part:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The founders of our nation did not merely wax poetic about the virtues of
liberty; our nation was birthed by a Declaration of Independence, a
document that insists that “all men are created equal” with “certain
*inalienable* rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.” After centuries of struggle, including a Civil War, we now
claim to understand that all people — not just propertied white men — are
created equal with basic, inalienable human rights. If this is true, on
what moral grounds can we greet immigrants with tear gas and lock them in
for-profit detention camps, or build walls against the huddled masses
yearning to breathe free? After all, what was Ms. Serrano-Hernandez doing
if not pursuing life, liberty and happiness for herself and her family? Did
she not display a level of courage, fortitude and determination to win
freedom for herself and those she loved comparable to that of those who
helped birth our nation?

Even if we’re tempted to treat as irrelevant the circumstances of our
nation’s founding, we cannot ignore the fact that our recent and current
foreign policies, trade agreements and military adventures — including our
global drug wars — have greatly contributed
the immigration crisis that our nation is now trying to solve through
border walls and mass deportation. Would Ms. Serrano-Hernandez and her
family even be knocking at our door today if it weren’t for the disastrous
policies our government has pursued in Honduras

The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small
group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s
the only thing that ever has.” Today a relatively small group of courageous
noncitizens — people like Mr. Vargas, Ms. Serrano-Hernandez, the Dreamers
and the thousands who joined the caravan — are challenging us to see
immigrants not only as fully human, created equal, with certain inalienable
rights but also morally entitled to far greater care, compassion and
concern than we have managed to muster to date.

Michelle Alexander became a New York Times columnist in 2018. She is a
civil rights lawyer and advocate, legal scholar and author of “The New Jim
Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

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