Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What are the obligations of immigrants?

The recent violence in the banlieues outside Paris has generated a lot of dead trees and electrons about the condition of immigrants in France. Predictably many on the Left have chosen to blame liberal, Western society rather than the young hoodlums out torching cars.

This got me to thinking. What are the obligations, if any, of immigrants to their new country?

First, a disclaimer. I work in the field of immigration. I am a technical expert on the computer systems the U.S. Department of State uses to issue immigrant and non-immigrant visas. So, I have a vested interest in the U.S.' policy of controlled, legal immigration. That aside, however, I sincerely believe that immigration should be tightly controlled. First and foremost is that in a post-9/11 world, having secure borders is a matter of national security. Second, and I say this very tongue-in-cheek but with a kernel of truth at its heart, we want to keep out the riff-raff.

However, to return to the original question, once we decide to admit an immigrant, what duty does he or she have towards their chosed country?

I think it boils down to two obligations: language and loyalty.

Immigrants to another country must learn that country's language. This seems so axiomatic as to not require further elaboration, but I will anyway since there will be those who will disagree with me.

The United States is a very advanced, complex society. How can anyone expect to function (like being able to read road signs, maps, job applications or any other myriad examples) if one doesn't speak the local language? Such a person would be at the mercy of strangers (to paraphrase Blanche Dubois).

Functionality aside, how can one expect to prosper if one doesn't speak the local language? If an immigrant speaks no or just rudimentary English, he will likely have a hard time securing anything but the most menial employment. This doesn't bode well for his upward mobility.

Loyalty, in my opinion, boils down to one thing: the abolition of "dual citizenship". A legal resident (i.e., a "green card" holder) who chooses to become a citizen of the United States must take an oath to "absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen". This, in and of itself, seems to render the entire concept of dual citizenship a moot point. How can one remain a citizen of Bolivia, say, when one has sworn an oath to forever renounce such ties? It is mutually exclusive.

As one who has worked in over 40 U.S. consulates and embassies, I have seen too many people who treat a U.S. passport as an accessory. To them, U.S. citizenship is merely an ace-in-the-hole so that they can send their children to U.S. universities, go to New York, Miami or Los Angeles to shop and to help them avoid civic obligations. Take the example of South Koreans for whom their children's U.S. citizenship is a tool to help them avoid compulsory military service. In their hypocritical opinion it is fine for U.S. soldiers to keep watch on the DMZ as human canaries in the coalmine of the Korean peninsula but certainly not their own children.

I think the question of language and loyalty are intertwined. For how can a person who can't fully function in American society, since they can't speak the language, feel much loyalty towards it? Without speaking the language how can anyone hope to get to know people of other cultures and ethnicities in the American melting pot? Without the binding element of language, that melting pot becomes a salad bowl of tossed together ingredients that remain separate.

And by allowing newly minted U.S. citizens to retain their original citizenship, should the going get rough, they can simply return home. I always liked the story of Cortez burning his ships upon arriving in the New World. Renouncing one's ties to one's birth country is the immigrant's equivalent of burning his ships. He is saying, "I chose this place to make my new life and I mean it."

Is this too much to ask? I don't think so. After all, by choosing to immigrate and then become a citizen, he is asking for all the rights and protections that native-born Americans enjoy. The new citizen is accepting a contract. The United States lives up to its end of the bargain, so I think it is only right that we ask immigrants to do the same.

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