Patrick’s post below regarding the president’s comments to Rolling Stone about his illegal DREAM amnesty highlights something that has long bothered me about the rhetoric surrounding the DREAMers. The president said the illegal immigrants in question “are American in every sense, except for their papers — love this country, have pledged allegiance to this flag, want to contribute.” It’s true that they are substantially acculturated and that’s part of the reason that some form of a DREAM amnesty, especially for those who really did come here “when they were two or three or five,” is a good idea.
But if these illegal immigrants really “are American in every sense, except for their papers”, then doesn’t it follow that other people, who do have “papers,”are not really American? What about those citizens, native-born or naturalized, who don’t “love this country,” who reject the very idea of pledging allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands? President Obama knows lots and lots and lots and lots of people like that — doesn’t it follow that they’re, I don’t know, un-American?
In a pluralistic republic like ours, citizenship can be the only measure of belonging. Anthropologists and others can profitably study the prevalence of various characteristics that make Americans exceptional, such as greater individualism and religiosity. It’s even true that the behavior of some of the president’s more loathsome associates is un-American.
But, regardless of their views, those whom our constitutional order has formally designated as citizens are “American” — and only those. And until we decide otherwise through the established legal means, that category does not include foreigners without citizenship, however much they “want to contribute,” however well they speak English, however much they want to live here, however fervently they pledge allegiance to the flag.