Immigrants and Immigration (4)
“‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’” Leviticus 19.33, 34
The citizenship conundrum
The current wrangling and fussing over immigration includes the question of citizenship. Are all these new immigrants expected to become citizens? Should they enjoy the privileges of citizenship before they do? Does the fact that they are not citizens exempt them from any citizenship duties or responsibilities (like paying taxes)? Should the children born to them in America be regarded as citizens, as is presently the case?
Public policy—or at least the public mindset—assumes that those who come from foreign countries to live and work in America as their new nation will, sooner or later, become citizens. Of course, provisions exist for short-term stays and longer-term work- or study-related arrangements. But if you plan to stay here for long, the assumption is you’re going to become a citizen.
At present, quotas define (supposedly) how many and which people may apply for citizenship in a given year, thus—at least theoretically—limiting the number of people who can come to America for the long-term. The notion of “illegal aliens” is thus directly related to the expectation of citizenship and the existence of quotas and citizenship protocols. At present, no provision exists for long-term, indefinite stays in America. An immigrant’s choices are to return to their native land or become a citizen of the United States.
Becoming a citizen entails certain privileges and responsibilities not available to everyone, primary among these being the right to participate in the political process—to vote or hold office—and to benefit from a variety of government services. Foreigners don’t need to be citizens to work or own property here. And it’s easy enough to visit America as a foreigner, or to study at one of our universities.
So the assumption is that those who wish to stay here for the long haul also wish to participate in the full privileges and responsibilities of living here; thus, they need to become citizens as soon as possible.
Is it necessary?
But is this really a necessity? I’m not suggesting it isn’t; I’m merely asking us to consider whether other options might be discovered. Everyone who is in this country—well, diplomats excluded (why?)—is subject to the laws of the land. So becoming a citizen does not obligate one to keep the laws, pay taxes, or behave. Merely being here obligates one to such responsibilities.
And not being a citizen does not debar one who is here from another country from working, studying, visiting public facilities, benefiting from the protections of law, and a variety of other benefits. These privileges can all be enjoyed under existing policies without the requirement of being a citizen.
Biblical Law did not require strangers (foreign visitors) to become citizens. Owning property would have been difficult, given the way property was managed under the ancient Israelite economy. But a foreign visitor would most likely have been able to find some place to rent or perhaps even to purchase, until, that is, the Sabbath year, when properties were returned to their original owner.
Citizenship in Israel was closely linked to the worship of God, and foreigners were not allowed to participate in the ancient Hebrew religious practices (although later, this prohibition was much relaxed, eventuating in the class of “God-fearers” we meet in the New Testament). But this had no bearing on whether they could live and work for an extended period among the Hebrew people. Nothing approaching our present understanding of citizenship exists in the Law of God.
The Law of God understood that people from other nations would want to benefit from conditions and opportunities in Israel. And although they would not have been permitted to worship God, they were free to live and work and expected to keep His Law like everyone else, and they would have been subject to the jurisdiction and oversight of local elders and judges.
I don’t know whether removing the citizenship requirement and/or quotas from the immigration question would have any effect on the kind of public policies lawmakers might enact to reform immigration practices. But it might be worth floating as a suggestion. Is it possible to accommodate foreigners wanting to live, work, and enjoy the privileges of American life, while submitting to American law, so that they can remain in this country for extended periods without achieving citizenship?
Citizenship was not an issue in ancient Israel. Perhaps there are ways of accommodating the continual influx of immigrants that do not entail a citizenship requirement.
Should American immigration policies allow for long-term, even indefinite, stays on the part of foreigners, without any expectation that citizenship is the end game? One fear, I suppose, is that foreigners would flood these shores, expecting to be taken care of by the government. But if we recall that, in the Biblical economy, even the poor were expected to work and contribute to the community, that fear might not be well-founded.
We tend to think that all citizens of the United States love their country and its history, heritage, and traditions. Increasingly, it appears that is not the case. Citizenship in America does not automatically make good citizens. And to the extent that this assumption is a factor in requiring citizenship for long-term residency, it is at least a moot question, suggesting that other ways might be found for accommodating the strangers and foreigners in our midst.
But if citizenship is the best alternative for immigrants, then we should make sure the process is thorough and consistent, and not subject to politicization.
1. As you see it, what are the benefits that one gains from being a citizen in the United States? What responsibilities does citizenship entail?
2. How much do you know about the process of becoming a citizen? See what you can find out. Does this seem a good preparation for citizenship in the US?
3. What would the US lose if citizenship were not required of all who live here? What might be gained?
Next steps—Preparation: Investigate the process whereby foreigners become citizens in the US. Can you see any ways to improve this?
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.