Posts tagged ‘Citizenship’

05/11/2013

Immigration: 200 Years of Law

Although immigration is once again being debated, it’s an issue that’s been discussed on and off since the founding of our nation. Before Congress and the President pass another bill, perhaps it’s time to review the federal laws previously enacted.

Let’s start with the U.S. Constitution. The score here is one right and one wrong. The Founders got it right when they delegated to Congress the power over Naturalization and Citizenship and thereby federalized the issue (Art I, Sec. 8). It would have been a mistake if they had allowed each state to write their own laws.

The Founders, however, got the idea of Citizenship wrong when they counted only 3/5ths of slaves and initially limited immigration to only free white persons (1790).

Congress got it right as they required immigrants to first reside in the U.S. for five years before they could become citizens (1795). They got it wrong by extending residency to fourteen years (1798), but then corrected the error, by returning to five (1802).

Congress got it right in the mid-1800s, when they ignored the Know Nothing Party and their Protestant members, who wanted Irish immigrants excluded, simply because they were Catholic.

America got it right after the Civil War when the 14th Amendment made all persons born or naturalized here, Citizens of the U.S. and of the state where they resided. Citizenship by birth, regardless of the nationality of their parents, was the right thing to do.

Congress got it wrong as they passed laws that excluded Chinese and other Asians based on nothing more than race (1875-92)

Congress got it right when they made some knowledge of the English language a condition of citizenship (1906). There is nothing wrong with requiring English reading tests (1917). Some civics is also not too much to ask from someone who wants to become a U.S. Citizen.

Congress got it wrong after WWI when they limited entry of newcomers to small numbers, by establishing quotas based on the nationalities of those already in the U.S. (1921-24). Ironically, the exclusion of foreigners, willing to work for low wages, helped organized labor in the U.S., by giving American citizens more job opportunities and greater bargaining power during the roaring 20s.

America got it right after WWII, when millions of homeless and orphaned displaced persons were taken in from war-torn Europe.

Congress got it wrong in the McCarthy Era (1950s) as suspected subversives were deported, and blacklisted people, like future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, were kept out.

Congress got it right in 1965 when they abolished the nationality quotas established in 1924, and started focusing instead on immigrant work skills, regardless of country of origin.

Congress got it right in 1986, as they imposed sanctions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. But they got it wrong by giving amnesty to three million illegal-aliens, as this had the unintended effect of encouraging even more to enter unlawfully.

Congress got it right in 1990 when they increased the annual number of legal immigrants from 500,000 to 700,000.

Congress got it right in 1996 when welfare and immigration reform made immigrants here illegally ineligible for most forms of federal assistance, including many types of Social Security.

We’ve learned from history the federal government, and not the states, have exclusive jurisdiction over immigration policies. These laws should not reject people on the basis of race or religion. Immigration policies must properly require newcomers to learn civics and to read and write English. People with useful skills should be allowed to enter the work force, as the U.S. needs a steady flow to insure a gradual rise in population. Caps on the annual flow are needed, however, so unemployed American citizens are able to find jobs, and not be displaced by excessive foreign labor, willing to work for less. Employer sanctions must be enforced, so everyone pays into the Social Security System. The underground economy must be destroyed to end cash payments under the table, so everyone contributes income taxes.

06/17/2011

Puerto Rico: Choose Independence

President Obama’s recent visit to Puerto Rico serves as a reminder that a plebiscite will be held there before the end of 2012, on whether the island should: 1) become independent; 2) remain a U.S. Territory; or 3) seek statehood. Independence would affect U.S. aid; statehood would be an unwarranted U.S. expansion; and keeping the current arrangement would perpetuate an outdated neo-colonial system. Although plebiscites in 1967, 1993, and 1998, resulted in leaving things just as they are, this time, Puerto Ricans should vote for independence.

If Puerto Rico requests statehood, the U.S. Congress would have the final say, since the U.S. Constitution provides: “New states may be admitted by the Congress” (Art IV, Sec. 3). The problem is the Congress now has no appetite for new states. 45 were added before the end of the 19th Century, and only three joined in the early 20th Century: Oklahoma (1907), New Mexico (1912) and Arizona (1912). As Arizona became the 48th state, nearly 100 years ago, the continental U.S. was filled in and completed.

Alaska and Hawaii were admitted in 1959 by a Congress of young WWII veterans, who had developed sentimental ties to the Pacific in WWII. The problem with Alaska and Hawaii is their physical disconnection from the contiguous mainland. Since it is 1,500 miles from Alaska to Seattle, Washington, and 2,400 from California to Hawaii, it would have been much better if Alaska had been sold to Canada, and Hawaii was granted independence.

The two wrongs of adding Alaska and Hawaii, do not justify a third mistake of admitting Puerto Rico, located 1,000 miles from Florida. If Puerto Rico is joined, under a theory that distance is no object, then why not add Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands? At some point, we need a physical boundary.

The other issue as to Puerto Rico is their deep-seated historical tie to the Spanish culture. Even though English is taught in schools, anyone who has ever visited San Juan is well aware the island is a Spanish-speaking commonwealth. It was ruled by Spain for 405 years, from 1493, when Columbus arrived, until 1898, when the U.S. seized control, in the Spanish-American War.

The U.S. should have immediately granted independence to the island in 1898, but Republican President McKinley kept it. Things became more complicated in 1917, when citizenship was granted to Puerto Ricans, so they could serve in the U.S. Army in WWI.

It is time for the most successful island in the Caribbean to stand up as an independent state and to rid itself once and for all of their status as an American dependency. Upon independence, those born on the island would become Puerto Rican, not U.S. citizens. Those with U.S. Citizenship could keep that status. Puerto Rico and the U.S. must now finally end the colonial era dependency, reject the idea of statehood, and support total independence.

05/20/2011

Immigration: Over 200 Years Of Laws

Immigration, a hot issue in some states, is a debate that has gone on since the founding of the nation, and before the Congress and President address another law, perhaps it’s time to quickly review of the ups and downs of the previous efforts.

Let’s start with the Constitution. The score here is one right, and one wrong. The founders got it right when they made immigration a federal issue, by delegating to the Congress the power over naturalization and citizenship (Art. 1, Sec 8). It would have been a mistake if every state had been permitted to write their own laws.

The founders, however, got the idea of citizenship wrong, when they counted only 3/5ths of the slaves, and initially limited immigration to free white persons (1790).

Congress got it right, by requiring immigrants to live in the U.S. for 5 years before citizenship (1795). They then got it wrong, when they extended the residency requirement to 14 years (1798), but then corrected that error by returning to 5 years (1802).

The Congress got it right in the mid-1800s, when they ignored the Protestant-Americans of the Know Nothing Party, who wanted to exclude Irish immigrants, because they were Catholic.

After the Civil War, the people got it right, as they ratified the 14th Amendment that made all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. citizens of the U.S., and the state where they reside. Citizenship by birth, regardless of parental nationality, was the right thing to do.

The Congress got it wrong when they passed several laws that excluded Chinese and other Asians based on race (1875-92).

Congress got it right when they required some knowledge of the English language, as a condition of citizenship (1906). An English reading test also seemed reasonable (1917). Learning the common language, and some civics, is not too much to ask of a citizen.

Congress got it wrong after WWI, when they closed the door to newcomers, by establishing quotas that limited immigration to small numbers, based on the nationalities of those already in the U.S. (1921-24). Ironically, the Republican exclusion of cheap foreign labor helped Democrats and organized labor, by giving existing workers plenty of jobs, and greater bargaining power.

America got it right again after WWII, when millions of homeless and orphaned “displaced persons” were received from Europe.

Congress got it wrong in the McCarthy Era (1952) as they deported suspected subversives, and kept blacklisted people out of the U.S., like future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Congress got it right in 1965, when they abolished the 1924 nationality quotas, and focused instead on the work skills of immigrants, regardless of their country of origin.

Congress got it right in 1986, as they enacted sanctions against employers who were hiring illegal immigrants, but got it wrong when they gave amnesty to three million illegal aliens, as this had the effect of encouraging even more to enter the U.S. illegally.

Congress got it right in 1990, when they increased the annual number of legal immigrants, from 500,000 to 700,000.

Congress got it right in 1996, when welfare and immigration reform made illegal immigrants ineligible for most forms of federal assistance, including many types of Social Security.

From this immigration history, we have learned that these laws must be written at the federal level, and not by state governments. They should never reject people on the basis of race or religion. They should allow those with useful work skills to enter, as the U.S. needs a steady flow of immigrants to insure a gradual rise in population. They need to cap the annual number of immigrants, so existing unemployed citizens do not have to compete against too much cheap labor. They need to enforce employer sanctions, and destroy the underground economy, so all contribute to the income tax and Social Security. They need to establish an immigration policy that requires newcomers to read and write English, know the basics of civics, and pay their fair share into the system.