The Corner

National Security & Defense

The United States Has a Duty to Its Green-Card Holders, Too

A plane carrying people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan is seen on the tarmac at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport after Taliban insurgents entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, near Paris, France, August 18, 2021. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

Jim noted this morning that:

You’ve probably noticed the administration keeps specifying “American citizens” in its numbers. This is a way to not include U.S. green-card holders, who are authorized to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Green-card holders can apply for citizenship after three to five years and enjoy almost all the benefits of American citizenship except voting. According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, when it comes to the evacuation, citizens and lawful permanent residents are equal priorities: “The Department of State’s efforts are devoted to evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). Our first priority is U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of the United States, along with eligible family members.”

Lawful American permanent residents are going to get left behind.

I want to add a little information to this, because, having been a green-card holder myself, I’m aware that Americans aren’t always sure what the category denotes.

Back in 2017, in the course of criticizing the scope of President Trump’s first immigration order, I argued that, irrespective of the measure’s underlying merits or legality, the green-card holders it included should never, ever have been covered by such a thing. Why not? Well, because while “green-card holders are not citizens”:

they’re not bog-standard visa-holders either. Unlike, say, H1B-carriers, permanent residents are expected to live in America by default, and are in fact penalized if they don’t. By law and by expectation, this country is their home; their base; the ground in which their roots are planted. Because of this, permanent residents are able to purchase, own, and carry firearms; they are required to register with the selective service; and they are treated for tax and welfare purposes as are U.S. citizens. They can’t vote or serve on a jury, but, other than, they effectively enjoy all the liberties that natural born Americans enjoy. When they re-enter the country, the agent says “Welcome Home,” which is a big change from their visa days. They are not Americans, and they mustn’t pretend to be. But they are as close as one can get without being one.

As I wrote at the time, I had no objection to having to wait to become an American. But I also didn’t want people to think I was just here on vacation:

As I’m fond of telling people who ask me “why” I “care about American politics,” I am not yet an American, but I do live here. My son and wife are here. I pay my mortgage here. I own a car here. I have a job here. And the same thing is true for green card holders from all over the world. If I were to be denied re-entry, I would be separated from my whole world.

Especially given that, unlike new applicants, green-card holders do not present a novel security challenge:

The process of obtaining a green card is tough. It took me a year from application to acceptance, and the vast majority of that time was taken up by the FBI. In addition to furnishing the government with my residential history, my employment history, and my criminal record (which is clean), I had to provide details of any clubs or societies to which I have ever belonged, to promise I wasn’t a terrorist or a Nazi or a communist, and to submit my fingerprints and a government-taken photograph on top. Which is to say: I had to go through the wringer before my card was issued.

When one obtains a green card, one is obtaining permission to live in the United States for the rest of one’s life. It’s not a visa. It’s not a temporary permission slip. It’s permanent residency. And, as Americans, we have a duty to bring the people we have welcomed to America forever back to where they belong: home.

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