It’ll feel good to get this off my chest: I’m harboring an undocumented person. Growing at the rate of half a pound each week, somewhere between my rib cage and my bladder, this interloper is preparing to make his/her grand entrance sometime in the next four to seven weeks - and for the life of me, I can’t figure out whether he or she is a true-blooded U.S. citizen.
Unlike many of our uninvited, hard-working guests currently in the United States, this little stowaway doesn’t have so much as a library card for documentation. And what about this meaningless “birth certificate” I’ll sign with the aid of my coyote (okay, midwife)? I’ve looked that document over, and as far as I can tell it doesn’t offer any guarantee that this new citizen will be productive, good looking, or give a hoot about U.S. foreign policy. Do we really want such an unpredictable kid running wild on the streets of Washington, D.C.?
So what exactly has this child done to deserve U.S. citizenship? Should he/she expect a free ride on the American Dream Expressway just for passing through the birth canal of a tax-paying, hard-working, U.S.-citizen mother? Talk about cheating the system! This small fry hasn’t paid one cent of taxes (and if I read the IRS materials correctly, I actually get to pay less when he/she hits the scene!), I’d be surprised if he/she can speak more than a few words of English within a year of arriving on U.S. soil, and instead of contributing to the U.S. economy this little person will just take, take, take.
Right now the U.S. Senate is working hard to hammer out the details of building big fences on the border (mostly concerning themselves with the one to the south) and finding ways to make immigrants pay for the great honor of picking tomatoes for our Big Macs and turning down the sheets at our Hilton Hotels. They’re suggesting that these workers pay $5,000 (over 20 percent of the average yearly salary for an agricultural worker) and return to their country of origin to get a nice stamp in a visa book before returning to pick up where they left off in those high-paying gigs.
What’s wrong with coming up with a way to make sure that those lucky enough to be born on U.S. soil actually deserve the benefits of citizenship that are so casually bestowed to them when they arrive, all wrinkled-up and screaming? If some folks are willing to walk across a burning desert with no money, little water, and no guarantee they’ll make it past some over-caffeinated Minuteman’s pickup truck, shouldn’t we ensure that those who make the comparatively easy trip down the birth canal work a little bit harder for their journey to citizenship?
Here’s my proposal: nobody gets automatic U.S. citizenship. Instead, we give ourselves some time to get to know these new recruits. How about instituting a review board for toddlers? For those who show anti-social tendencies (remember, we've grown terrorists here, too) we’ll go ahead and install some wiretaps and video-cams for closer observation. And imagine having all 12-year-olds pass an English language and citizenship test. Additionally, the $5,000 citizenship fee should be extended to all who wish to live and work in this great land. Or, better yet, we institute a progressive fee determined by an individual’s net worth. Rich kids will pay more. A large number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. currently pay taxes, so that’s no excuse for those of us born here - from here on out you pay your taxes and you pay for the unwarranted privilege of being born in Atlanta, Georgia, Granville, Ohio, Sacramento, California, etc. Fair is fair.
Oh, and these kids shouldn’t be allowed to vote until enough pollsters have been dispatched to figure out exactly which way they swing. If they promise to disrupt the balance of power, we won’t allow them in the voting booth. Our democracy depends on stability and predictability. Who knows what upstarts are being born right now?
As one or two country music musicians remind us: freedom isn't free. And U.S. citizenship shouldn’t be either. A note to the little kick boxer in my belly – Immigration and Customs Enforcement may not be knocking down the door to our birthing room, but don’t think because you’re scheduled to be born on the 4th of July it means you deserve high-priced healthcare and the freedom to own a gun. Kid, you’re going to have to prove you deserved to be born here.
Amy Ard is the National Field Organizer for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.