Are You an American?

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

-Amendment XIV Constitution of the United States

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, Engraved on a Tablet within the Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

“. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

-Matthew 25:35 From A Teaching of Jesus the Christ

Are you an American? Can you be sure? How do you know? What makes it so? Do you even wish to be an American? What is citizenship? Who should be entitled to remain here? Given the current attitude toward strangers who would want to come here?

These and hundreds of other questions come to mind as the new Congress gets set to meet. Near the top of the agenda for incoming Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives will be a major new piece of legislation that reinterprets or perhaps proposes an entirely new amendment to the Constitution of the United States, making the word birthright largely meaningless. That is defined in the dictionary as a native right or privilege.

In the past, if you came into this world within a jurisdiction of the United States of America you were an American citizen. That is still true at the moment but it could change. Republicans have control over the House of Representatives. The Democrats margin in the Senate is reduced, and President Obama badly wants to compromise on immigration reform. This might be how he does it. But if he does, it would be a serious mistake. The proposal to redefine the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to exclude the children of undocumented immigrants somehow violates something sacred in the soul of America; something that has been with us since our founding.

I know full well the arguments of the nativists among us. These people broke the law. They are criminals. They bring disease. They bring crime. They bring disloyalty to the United States. They are invaders. They are drug dealers. They are terrorists. They are strangers. They are foreigners. They are. . .

In the end this is an us and them style debate. Of course Struggles For Justice must side with them. We welcome the stranger and provide him food, clothing and drink.

Under the new law proposed by House Republican leadership and likely to be voted into law this spring it is doubtful either President Obama or myself would be American citizens. In the President’s case we have a fake birth certificate identifying the place of his birth as Honolulu, Hawaii a U.S. Territory become State. In my case, we have an equally bogus birth certificate from Chicago, Illinois, County of Cook. The more politically astute among you will no doubt detect the difficulty immediately. How much money did it take for my parents to get that bogus birth certificate? Where was I in fact born? Where were my parents born?

Where were my parents born? That will be the new standard for citizenship come this spring and you had better have the paperwork to prove beyond doubt in court that you were indeed not only born in the United States of America or a territory under its jurisdiction, but that your parents, or their parents were. If you cannot, out you go!

Then there is all this troublesome talk of “give us your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We might quietly disassemble the Statue of Liberty and return it just as quietly to France or better yet, on a dark, and stormy night, very much like the one we are entering here with this issue as a nation, we could haul the disjecta membra out to sea and dump it in some undisclosed location. Or even better yet, we could melt down what is left and use it to help build the wall between Mexico and the United States.

We have this very difficult teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, known to millions of Christians the world over as Christ or the Son of God. The teaching quoted herein was in relation to the final judgment of God. Not something to take as a maybe he was just kidding sort of statement. It was meant with all due seriousness. It was being taught. If you are an atheist or adherent to another faith you can safely ignore it. But any of the incoming House Republicans who will draft this new immigration law had better consult their Bibles if they also profess adherence to Christianity as well as to the Republican Party.

You don’t have to be a Christian to take our side. Those of us who profess Christianity as a faith usually fall short of following it so we can forgive the lawmakers who will draft and pass this hated decree in advance. They are simply falling short in the eyes of God. Don’t we all. But we are not required to do so in every single case. We can listen to Christ’s teachings and follow them the first time.

And we can all uphold this central idea of what America means and is to so many of us: it is a place of refuge from a corrupt and hateful world. It is a place to welcome the strangers among us and make them our own. The words of Emma Lazarus and the presence of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor are only symbolic. They hold no legal sanction over anyone. But they do exert a moral example for the nation to follow. A beacon of hope. In that same poem Emma Lazarus uses the phrase “From her beacon-hand.” The statue does have a torch which is as a beacon of freedom and hope for all who come here, and a light to the world for freedom amidst its great darkness.

There is one thing the incoming House Republicans could do to really make 2011 a notable year. They could abandon this legislation and simply put in its place a law that would permit all who live here to come forward and take an oath of loyalty to the United States, prove they have been here the required time, obtain a couple of sponsors, and simply become Americans. Why not simply recognize the de facto situation? A woman recently said we have to “remove all the illegals among us” as if they were a plague upon the land. What really motivated that statement? She assumed that I was “one of us” when I really was “one of them.”

Before you say how terrible full amnesty for illegal aliens would be let me put it to you this way: out in Afghanistan right this moment, there are a group of non-citizens who hope to become Americans fighting for us. Let them depart. Let them return to their homelands. Then left to fight on their own and probably be killed for lack of support from those departed comrades will be the real Americans. The fake ones with names like Jimenez, Ramirez, Gonzalez and the like were not real Americans. They could not possibly fight and die for the nation. So let’s remove them from active duty all over the world. Then we will ask those serving us in combat who the real Americans are.

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