»  National Review Online

May 30th, 2006

  Path to What?


I see that Namibia has offered citizenship to Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, who was born in that nation on Saturday. Little Shiloh Nouvel is of course the fruit of the union of movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Namibia's Environment and Tourism Deputy Minister Leon Jooste announced the infant's citizenship that same day, with the words: "Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt will according to Namibian law be allowed to obtain Namibian citizenship if the parents should choose to do so."

I hope that the many, many NRO readers over there in Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Grootfontein, and Swakopmund will not take umbrage if I say that Namibia would not be most people's first choice of nation to get free citizenship in. "Rainfall sparse and erratic," says the CIA factbook. Less than one percent of the land is arable, and under "Natural Hazards" the CIA lists: "Prolonged periods of drought." You get the picture: the place is basically a desert. In Africa. Either 21 or 25 percent of the country's two million people (depending on whether you believe the CIA or the BBC — now there's a choice of reliable sources for you!) are HIV positive. The fashion for "expropriating" white farmers — you can't help suspecting that there are truckloads of stone-faced guys with machetes hiding in between the p's and r's there somewhere — seems to have spread from Zimbabwe. The current president, Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba, is listed as "having studied in the Soviet Union." Uh-oh.

Still, at least little Shiloh Nouvel didn't have to trudge any dreary "path to citizenship" over there in Namibia, as some portion of the U.S.A.'s 11, or 12, or possibly 20 million illegal immigrants will, if the U.S. Senate has its way. The Hagel-Martinez bill passed by the Senate last week allows illegal immigrants who have been in this country for two years or more to get a "temporary work permit," which will then, after they have jumped through a few not-very-demanding hoops, qualify them to apply for U.S. citizenship.

What proportion, exactly, of the 11, 12, or 20 million will be eligible for this ticket to citizenship? Nobody knows. Given the scale and sophistication of the fraudulent-document industry (which has just got the biggest boost any criminal enterprise has enjoyed since the passing of the Volstead Act), my guess would be somewhere north of 100 percent. North, because folk will be flying in by the planeload on tourist visas from Bolivia, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso, stopping off to pick up some phony documents on the street ("You want the $100 packet of just utility bills and rent receipts? Or the $250 deal with church membership, charity work, letters of recommendation from employers, and night school certificates?"), then heading for the Immigration Office. This, after all, is what happened after the 1986 amnesty, when two million people were supposed to be eligible, but three million showed up.

It would be nice to know a bit more about that "path to citizenship," even as it applies to people who resist the blandishments of the fake-document touts and follow the rules scrupulously. Those rules, as set out in the Senate bill, involve leaving the country and coming right back in if you have been living illegally in the U.S.A. for less than five years. The purpose of this requirement is mysterious to me. Apparently it is to punish, with a tad of inconvenience, the less brazen of the law-breakers. The more brazen, the ones who have defied U.S. law for five years or more, are excused this inconvenience. Presumably this makes sense to somebody.

I suppose the "path to citizenship" at some point involves getting a "green card" (it is actually pink), the document that entitles you to live here as a resident alien, but without full citizenship rights. If so, it will be interesting to see how many of the illegals, once they have got themselves a green card, bother to proceed to citizenship.

There is not actually a lot of point in doing so. The way the immigration rules are (and, on the Senate plan, will continue to be) structured, citizenship isn't actually worth a damn unless you just have some irrational, sentimental desire to be an American. It is, in fact, a bit of a nuisance in one respect. Citizens have to do jury duty, but green card holders don't. The positive things that citizenship gets you are the right to vote, and the right to hold certain government jobs needing security clearance. Otherwise there isn't a whole lot of difference between citizenship and green card status. Both are liable for the same taxes; both have to register for the draft. Since only around half of U.S. citizens bother to vote in national elections, the other half would, for all practical purposes, be better off as green card holders, in that they'd be excused jury duty. And in fact there is a campaign for giving voting rights to aliens — New York City Council has debated a bill on the subject — so even in the matter of voting, citizenship may not be a benefit for much longer.

The trend over the past few years has been to strip U.S. citizenship of any real value. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, for example, was supposed to prohibit the giving of welfare payments and food stamps to non-citizens. The courts soon gutted that, though, as they had gutted California's Proposition 187, approved by the voters of that state in 1994, denying health, educational and welfare benefits to non-citizens. Constitutionally the courts are on solid ground, as the Constitution mainly refers not to citizens but to "persons." There were surges in the number of resident aliens applying for citizenship in the mid-1990s just because of these measures. Now the courts have made it plain that schooling and welfare benefits are for both citizens and non-citizens alike, it is not likely there will be any further such surges. As Samuel Huntington noted in his indispensible 2004 book on the National Question, Who Are We?:

The erosion of the differences between citizens and aliens, the overall declining rates of naturalization, and the naturalization spike of the mid-1990s, all suggest the central importance of material government benefits for immigrant decisions. Immigrants become citizens not because they are attracted to America's culture and Creed, but because they are attracted by government social welfare and affirmative action programs. [For which latter, by the way, aliens are as fully eligible as are citizens — J.D.] If these are available for noncitizens, the incentive for citizenship fades … If … citizenship is not necessary to get benefits, it is superfluous. As Peter Schuck and Rogers Smith argue, it "is welfare state membership, not citizenship, that increasingly counts … Membership in the welfare state, in contrast [to membership in the political community], is of crucial and growing significance …"

So … why bother to become a citizen? A great many foreigners don't. The prize, for foreigners, is not U.S. citizenship, it is legal U.S. residence. This applies even to people who have not much need to call on the welfare state for support. The singer Neil Young, for instance, has been living in the U.S.A. since 1966, but has never bothered to take out U.S. citizenship. TV journalist Morley Safer is another example. (Note the very low correlation between reluctance to take out U.S. citizenship and reticence in passing comment on U.S. life and politics.)

American politicians, including our current president, speak of U.S. citizenship in lofty terms, giving the impression (and perhaps believing themselves) that foreigners yearn to be able to say with pride:  "Civis Americanus sum!" and are ready to pay any price, bear any burden, endure any hardship, in order to attain that exalted status. The more eccentric among us actually do feel like that. A great many others just want to live here. For them the prize is, as I said, not citizenship but residence.

And as there are people who ought to take out citizenship but don't, there are others who are citizens by the mere fact of having been born here, thanks to the "birthright citizenship" that follows from the current (though by no means the only possible) interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, whose purpose was to enfranchise freed slaves. Those who should be citizens, aren't, while those who shouldn't be, are. It's a mess. And this is not even to mention the weird and wonderful business of dual citizenship, which needs a book all to itself (and as a matter of fact has one).

So there you are. The "path to citizenship" is a bit of a joke, because citizenship itself is becoming a bit of a joke. Our globalist, "transnational" elites have decided that the nation-state is defunct, just a deplorable holdover from those benighted times when people took their nationhood seriously, to the degree that they even fought wars over the matter. Nowadays we fight wars for much nobler reasons, and nationhood is merely an embarrassing relic of less refined times — just a kind of racism, really. Our politicians, in particular, are not going to let anything as trivial as national borders or national identity inconvenience their financiers — big corporate blocs hungry for cheap labor, big bureaucracies hungry for clients, big ethnic lobbies hungry for privileges, goverment funds, and revenge. This is where we have come to. I wonder if it's the same in Namibia?