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Americans In Waiting?
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September 06, 2006, 03:51 PM
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Oxford University Press will release a book this month called Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States, consisting of a collection essays on the topic. One of these essays, written by Hiroshi Motomura, is currently available on the Chronicle of Higher Education website (Immigration: How ‘They’ Become ‘Us’). In it, Motomura describes three possible ways in which the American people have and do view the lawful immigrant, or permanent resident. The problem of illegal aliens is not addressed.

The first – and he claims, the oldest – perception is that of “immigration as transition,” which involves seeing the new immigrant as a future citizen.

It treats lawful immigrants as Americans in waiting, as if they would eventually become citizens of the United States, and thus it confers on immigrants a presumed equality. We Americans no longer view immigration as transition, nor do we think of immigrants as Americans in waiting. We treat new immigrants as outsiders until shown otherwise. They may later become citizens, but we no longer treat them as if they will.

Second, is the perception of “immigration as contract” and it seems to be the most prevalent one in current debate, but not in the MSM.

The offer that immigrants accept by coming to America may be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Their bargaining power is very weak, and there is no real negotiation. And yet immigration as contract is accurate to describe this view of immigration because it adopts ideas of fairness and justice often associated with contracts... Immigration as contract is based on the sense that fairness and justice for lawful immigrants do not require us to treat them as the equals of citizens. [For one thing, they can be deported if they break the law.] Though immigration as contract is a model of justice, it is a model of unequal justice, which turns not on conferring equality itself but on giving notice and protecting expectations.

The MSM, I would say, views immigrants in terms of “immigration as affiliation,” which evolved out of the idea that because an immigrant is present in the U.S., he deserves a certain kind of justice, no matter what his citizenship status. Immigration as affiliation argues that

…lawful immigrants — even if convicted of crimes that make them deportable — should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they have been here for a long time and have strong community ties. The longer they are here, and the more they become enmeshed in the fabric of American life, the more these lawful immigrants should be treated equally with citizens. This view of immigration is not based on the justice without equality of immigration as contract, nor on the presumed equality of immigration as transition, but rather on an earned equality.

Ultimately, Motomura concludes that “immigration in transition” is a perception that needs revival. He proposes that immigrants who are in the process of fulfilling their residency requirements (usually 5 years) should be treated as citizens in waiting; they would be eligible education, health care, welfare, etc., as well as voting privileges and the ability to sponsor family members into citizenship. If the immigrant does not apply for U.S. citizenship after his five years are up, he loses all his privileges. This plan, Motomura suggests, will secure a more stable American identity for incoming citizens, and encourage immigrants to more fully connect themselves with our national identity.

While Motomura’s assessment of the perception evolution over time may be accurate enough, he fails to consider the very important question of why things have changed. We no longer treat immigrants with a presumed equality because immigrants have overwhelmingly taken advantage of America’s generosity. How can one earn something, simply by existing in a certain time and place? Lack of assimilation and attitudes of entitlement have forced U.S. citizens to take on the heavy burden of providing for millions of immigrants who provide no benefit to the U.S. economy or culture.

The offer that immigrants accept by coming to American should be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, because we’ve got a lot to lose and almost nothing to gain.