Citizenship: Do Americans understand it?


Naturalization of new citizens on June 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Citizenship seems to be misunderstood by many within America. Since around 2007, there are those in Congress who define citizenship differently than in past generations. So, what is citizenship and does it matter? Within American politics today this question is being asked by members of Congress, special interest groups, and the mainstream news media. In the post-Obama nation it seems as if there’s little to no distinction between citizen and illegal immigrant.

This started out to be a single post about the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. But as I began to prepare this entry, I realized understanding it means to be a citizen cannot be summarized in one post. This will be the first of a series of posts discussing citizenship.

Defining citizenship

A working definition of what citizenship is needed before any discussion about citizenship can be made. Citizenship is defined as: the status of being a citizen; membership in a community (such as a college), or the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community.1 Understanding what citizenship means depends on an understanding of what a citizen is. Within the definition of a citizen is the understanding as a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and entitled to protection from it.2

The definition of what a citizen is has an interesting phrase, “who owes allegiance to a government and entitled to protection from it.” This phrase identifies one of the blessings of citizenship. Our nation’s history bears the difficulty in determining what defines an American citizen. It wasn’t until during Reconstruction, as a part of readmission to the Union, when the 14th Amendment was ratified, the question of citizenship was partially answered. The first sentence of the amendment, All persons born or naturalized in the United States remains the defining statement of what defines an American citizen.

The blessings or benefits of being a citizen were never meant to be rights given to anyone residing within the nation. This is not uniquely an American concept. In any nation there are benefits given to its own citizens which are not available to non-citizens. Traditionally, aliens, understood to mean a non-citizen living in a nation but not a citizen, do not possess the benefits of citizenship. This is not just an American concept but is similar in every nation.

An uncomfortable conversation

Because of the American mainstream media and Leftists within the nation, any discussion of citizenship normally results in charges of racism. Similar reactions happen when discussing illegal immigration. Immediately and as a means to end any legitimate conversation, anyone who is concerned about illegal immigration becomes a racist and is against all forms of immigration. But there’s the problem; there cannot be a real discussion about citizenship or immigration unless the distinction is made between legal and illegal immigration.

There are real national issues which our nation needs to address. But none of these can be successfully addressed until the nation’s problem with illegal immigration is resolved. Before the problems of illegal immigration can be addressed, we must understand the impact that illegal immigration has on the American citizen.

What are the “benefits” of being a citizen?

Within the United States, there are many benefits to being an American citizen. While the Constitution and federal statutes give many rights to both citizen and alien, there are some which only belong to citizens. Some of the rights of citizenship include participating in elections, bringing family members into the United States, and acquiring citizenship for minor children either born or adopted overseas. Additionally, there are rights which are more significant, such as running for an elected position, federal employment, and the ability to travel overseas under an American passport.3

The benefits have been downplayed in our society since the 1960s and by the mid 1970s, most high schools in the U.S. began phasing out civics classes. While far from perfect, the classes did offer basic information to young adults about how the national government functions and their rights and responsibilities as citizens. By the time I had civics in the mid-1980s, the course simply focused on how the government functioned. There was no mention of citizenship or of rights and responsibilities of the citizen.

The dangers of non-citizen voting

Currently, there are movements within the nation which are working to extend the right to vote beyond the citizen. Chicago has recently announced that it will issue identification cards which it reports “Mayor Rahm Emanuel is launching for undocumented immigrants and others will be a valid form of identification for people both registering to vote and voting in Chicago.”4 This is an attempt by a municipality to undermine the integrity of national elections.

Within the style of constitutional republic government which the United States operates under, elections have the ability to shape foreign policy, the economy, domestic issues, and through court appointments, the functioning of the judiciary. While these issues are important to citizen and alien alike, the impact they have on the responsibilities of citizenship only apply to the citizen. By extending the vote to alien residents and illegal immigrants, the rights of the citizen – regardless of race – becomes watered down.

Allowing illegal immigrants to vote, in certain congressional districts, will give representation and congressional influence to people who are not entitled to representation in Congress or in their state legislatures. This has a direct impact on foreign and domestic policies, and how congressional appropriations are structured. On a more local level, it could cause municipalities to divert funds from projects which benefits all residents to projects which only benefits the illegal immigrant community.

Placing illegal immigrants before American citizens

Consider the current admission policies University of California Merced where illegal immigrants outnumber African-Americans. The university’s administration highlights how it “provides services and program that address the unique needs of undocumented students.”5 Some of these services and programs have included scholarships, academic support services, and even on-campus employment. In other words, this university has created programs which are not available to American citizens – to include African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or American Indians.

In an attempt by Liberal Democrats to remain in power, California seems fixated on expanding the rights of the illegal immigrant. With a dwindling African-American population, the Democrats in California have identified the illegal immigrant as the next “minority” it wants to utilize to stay in power. There have been changes in state laws regarding employment, voter identification laws, and social program eligibility.6 Because of the state’s jungle primary, there’s little  resistance from moderate Democrats or Republicans to many of the initiatives which benefit illegal immigrants. And as illegal immigrants begin exercising the right to vote in California, opposition will all but disappear.7

California’s illegal immigrant policies and the nation

If anyone things that California’s new policies regarding illegal immigrant rights will stop at its borders, they are willingly deceived. California, and the Democratic Party, seek to expand its policies nationwide. Shortly after inauguration, President Trump instructed the Department of Commerce to include a question about the citizenship status of respondents. Immediately, California’s attorney general, General Xavier Becerra filed suit against the Trump administration.8 Within a Twitter post, he claimed “California simply has too much to lose to allow his administration to botch this obligation.”

According to the Constitution, the national census is what is used to determine representation in the House of Representatives. By extension, it also determines the number of votes a state has in the Electoral College. Questions regarding citizenship status have been a part of the national census until 1960.9 And before 1960, only those identifying as citizens were counted for congressional representation. After 1960, the entire population of a state determined its number of congressional districts. If the question about citizenship does return to the once-a-decade census, California could possibly lose representation and electoral college votes. If illegal immigrants aren’t counted, California would lose four seats within the House and four electoral college votes.10

California has the largest number of representatives in Congress. Because of  its congressional representation, California wields more influence in Congress than the states of Alaska, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined. This influence allows California to have a hand in shaping congressional actions, confirmation of executive branch and judicial branch appointments, and even foreign policy. For this reason, California has become focused on increasing the rights of political participation by illegal immigrants and demand they be counted in the upcoming 2020 census.

We have already seen the attempts by California’s congressional delegation to rebrand illegal immigrants as “undocumented Americans” since 2009. We’ve also witnessed how California is attempting to offer free healthcare to illegal immigrants under the Affordable Care Act.11 California’s legislature and attorney general have vowed to tax “Cadillac healthcare plans” as income and has committed publicly to defending other aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate.12,13 While the IRS will not collect the mandate, there is already a movement within California to give the state power to collect it.14  The supporters of this movement hope that the revenue generated by the individual mandate and the collection of fines for violating it will offset the costs of providing insurance to low-income families – and as high as 1/3 of those families, according to California’s own statistics, are illegal immigrant families.

What is the benefit of being a citizen of California when laws and policies are drafted which places an illegal immigrant above the law-abiding legal immigrant and citizen? And if California’s pro-illegal immigrant policies are forced upon the rest of the nation, how does that strengthen our constitutional republic? When a government passes laws to benefit illegal immigrants at the expense of its citizenry, the government has lost its ability to govern. According to the writers of the Enlightenment, particularly John Locke, there is a contract between the citizen and the government which requires a government to act in the best interests of the citizenry. And in the case of California, the contract has been broken.

References cited:

Definition of CITIZENSHIP. Merrian-Webster’s Online Dictionary. Published January 1, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Definition of CITIZEN. Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary. Published January 1, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
3 A Guide to Naturalization What Are the Benefits and  Responsibilities of Citizenship? U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Published May 2016. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Byrne J. Chicago ID card would be valid voter identification. Published February 16, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
UC Merced: Illegal Immigrants Outnumber Black Students. Daily Wire. Published August 2, 2016. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Mason M. California gives immigrants here illegally unprecedented rights, benefits, protections. Published August 11, 2015. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Meyerson H. California’s jungle primary: Tried it. Dump it. Published June 21, 2014. Accessed August 8, 2018.
California Sues Over Citizenship Question on 2020 Census. NBC Southern California . Published March 27, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Why the U.S. stopped asking about citizenship on the census in 1960. NBC News. Published April 17, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
How immigration will change the electoral power of states Trump needed to win election. New York Post. Published February 17, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2018.
California May Offer Free Healthcare to Illegal Immigrants. Le·gal In·sur·rec·tion. Published May 25, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Tax on ‘Cadillac’ Health Plans Could Have a Major Impact . Society for Human Resource Management. Published April 8, 2010. Accessed August 8, 2018.
California’s Xavier Becerra Vows to Defend Affordable Care Act. U.S. News and World Report. Published June 11, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Caiola S. Is A Statewide Insurance Mandate Next For California? Capital Public Radio. Published February 5, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2018.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus



Comments are closed.