Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Birthright Citizenship

Will Wilkinson is, as always, fair and clear.

Still.... I am likely one of the people he refers to as having an unreasoning opposition to a change in the policy, precisely because it is so symbolic of the elimination of slavery.

But I guess the kind of slavery I have in mind is the kind I saw in Germany, where Turks and other "guest workers" lived as second class citizens. They were not part of the society, but served it. They felt excluded from participation in nearly every part of civic life, but serve that civic life by cleaning toilets and picking up garbage. (I talked to a LOT of taxi drivers. They were pissed.)

Isn't that a kind of slavery, too? Sure, it's voluntary, 'cause they can go home, but what about their children? Does Germany want those native Germans as citizens? As the character Action sang in West Side Story, "They didn't wanna have me, but somehow I got had." [It turns out that it IS possible to acquire German citizenship, in fact, I was wrong about this, as Will W and a commenter point out. In fact, the commenter says that I am "ignorant," which clearly seems correct. Still it is interesting that Turks feel so disaffected, so unassimilated. On which, see C. Caldwell book below]

I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to quote Rousseau (I know, I know...)

Social Contract, Book IV, Section 2:

There is but one law which, from its nature, needs unanimous consent. This is the social compact; for civil association is the most voluntary of all acts. Every man being born free and his own master, no one, under any pretext whatsoever, can make any man subject without his consent. To decide that the son of a slave is born a slave is to decide that he is not born a man.

If then there are opponents when the social compact is made, their opposition does not invalidate the contract, but merely prevents them from being included in it. They are foreigners among citizens. When the State is instituted, residence constitutes consent; to dwell within its territory is to submit to the Sovereign.


Birthright citizenship prevents slavery, even today. I would put it, "to decide that the son of a guest worker is born a guest worker is to decide that he is not born a man." And anyone born in the U.S. is not "a foreigner among citizens," but a citizen. Not a slave.

(My favorite book on immigration is Christopher Caldwell, _Reflections on the Revolution in Europe_, who treats birthright citizenship quite fairly, and largely thinks it is a bad idea for Europe, by the way. But the exclusion of guest worker children from citizenship is a big part of the creation of ethnic ghettoes and dangerous segregation in Europe. Since the kids can't be Europeans, by law, they decide to be REALLY REALLY not Europeans. To be fair, the differences, which Caldwell points out, may have to do with assimilation of Islam in Europe, and assimilation of Catholic Latinos in the U.S.)

RESPONSE FROM WILL W: I think the rule is that if you have to quote Rousseau, you lose! Mike did you know that since 2000 the German law has been this (from Wikipedia!):
"Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent: has a permanent residence permit (and has had this status for at least three years); and has been residing in Germany for at least eight years."


WOW! A double beat down. And I still say I am not gay, unless Will is. Then, I'd think about it.

5 comments:

Will Wilkinson said...

I think the rule is that if you have to quote Rousseau, you lose!

Mike did you know that since 2000 the German law has been this (from Wikipedia!):

"Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent: has a permanent residence permit (and has had this status for at least three years); and
has been residing in Germany for at least eight years."

Stephen said...

I remember a time back in high school when I declared to my social studies teacher that "Rousseau should be shot", or rather dug up and shot since he's already long dead. I don't recall exactly what prompted that energetic (and shamefully murderous) declaration, but we had just read something from him.

Anyhow, regarding citizenship by birth within the territory, I think the root of the problem is all the gimmes that gov't has instituted. Back when the main benefit of citizenship was voting, it wasn't such an issue, no?

zimaroll said...

I really appreciate this post. I had never thought of the birthright C in terms of slavery and I think that is well said. I am also surprised to see your positive review of Caldwell's book. I liked it to.
But I think the most important thing in this post is the word Assimilation. That is the thing. That is what makes old guard citizens stab themselves with a fork. If the immigrants would just freakin' assimilate, we wouldn't have Arizona, or Londonistan. Keep birthright citizenship but mandate assimilation classes???

Anonymous said...

Um, besides what Will said about birth to permanent residents, you do know that it is possible to acquire German citizenship by naturalization for oneself and family, right? (A process is much much less demeaning than in the US?) So at the latest by the second generation of the guest workers the "problem" is solved.

Attributing the "plight" of the German Turks in this day and age to citizenship law is just ignorant of German law and society.

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