On Immigration & Citizenship

I read with great interest an article in the October Harper’s entitled A Sport And A Passport. The author presented to the reader a partial transcript of an interview conducted by Swiss authorities that was part of process to gain Swiss citizenship.

You see, the process of getting a Swiss passport differs from the United States in some of the most remarkable ways. For instance:

  • Foreigners with no direct blood ties to Switzerland through either birth or marriage must currently live in the country for at least 12 years before they can apply for citizenship. Years spent in the country between ages ten and 20 count double.
  • The applicant must have knowledge of a national language (The four national languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansh) to a minimum spoken level of proficient and written level of very proficient.
  • Applicants for naturalization must have a “C” residence permit to apply for a Swiss passport. Previously they could apply with various permits, but no longer. A non-European Union person can apply for a C Permit only after being a resident in Switzerland for 10 or more years.
  • Applicants cannot have benefited from social welfare assistance three years before applying or during the naturalization process.
  • The State Secretariat for Migration will closely examine whether an applicant has integrated into the Swiss way of life, is familiar with Swiss customs and traditions, complies with the Swiss rule of law, and is not a security threat.

With the above requirements met, the State Secretariat for Migration will then “green light” an applicant’s request to begin the naturalization process. However, that does not mean citizenship is guaranteed. Rather, cantons and municipalities have their own requirements that must be met. And that brings us to the crux of the Harper’s article.

The author of the article seemed to think that the applicant, a woman born to Turkish parents in Switzerland was ultimately denied citizenship because she did not know a lot about local sports teams. After reading the partial transcript of the interview, I don’t think the decision was quite so superficial. Rather, the applicant’s responses may have indicated to the panel she had not truly assimilated and had not sufficiently instilled within herself Swiss values and culture. In many respects, it appeared to be more like a job interview where both management and employees got to take a look at someone and decide if they wanted them on the team or not.

In one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time, author, James Howard Kunstler emphatically stated the following:

“. . .one final thing, I’ve been very disturbed about this for years, but, I think it is particularly important for this audience, please, please, stop referring to yourselves as CONSUMERS, okay, consumers are different than citizens! Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities, and duties to their fellow human beings and as long as you are using that word consumer in the public discussion you will be degrading the quality of the discussion we are having and continue being clueless going into this very difficult future. . .”

And it is to those obligations, responsibilities and duties that I want to now turn to: For the past few months I have been involved in a local movement to stop a natural gas pipeline from cutting a swath through my county. Three lawsuits have been filed and one is still ongoing, even though the judge refuses to grant an injunction to halt construction until the appeal is heard. I have also been involved in a movement that has been successful in halting development on local farmland. As of today we are 2 for 3 when it comes to halting developments.

I mention the above because all of these actions to prevent encroachment, environmental predation and exploitation by the corporatocracy were started by citizens. These citizens educated themselves on the issues, organized, and worked to protect their homes and ways of life. Successful or not, these forms of organized resistance would not have been possible without a well informed, capable and united citizenry that took matters into their own hands and made bold stands.

These citizen activists, many of whom have been part of their communities for not just many years, but in many cases generations, are effective because they are able to educate themselves on the details of the law, clearly and effectively articulate their opposition, and unite their communities. Although a good course in elementary school civics might make you knowledgeable of one’s civic rights, it WILL NOT an effective activist make. It takes experience and the imparting of knowledge from many sources to include seasoned activists and community leaders.

It almost goes without saying with an exception here and there, newly minted immigrants will not have the skills and acculturation necessary to fully carry out their obligations, responsibilities and duties as citizens. In time, through immersion and study they will learn them. And that is fine if immigration numbers are relatively low and immigrants are being absorbed in to the “body politic.”

However, this is much less the case today than it was prior to the early 1970’s. Prior to that time and following the mid-1920’s, immigration to the United States was far more restricted. For instance, the year my mother came to the United States, only 178,000 green cards were issued. During that period of time the middle class was built, wealth was more evenly distributed, and grand investments were being made in the country’s infrastructure. Additionally, the government was responsive to citizen demands to better protect the environment. Last year, over 1,000,000 were issued.

Because of the huge increases in legal immigration and the tolerance of illegal immigration, we have allowed many residents and communities to slip out of the body politic. In California, roughly 1/3 of the people in the state were not born in the United States. California also has the highest poverty rate in the United States. We use the term “fly over states” to describe parts of America. In California, there are “fly over regions” and all of them are inland and many of those composed of high numbers of recent arrivals. Good luck effectively organizing there when the priorities are finding a job for the day that will pay just around the minimum wage and the language spoken inside and outside the home is anything but English!

Recently an acquaintance told me how he had been accused of being close-minded. His retort was he “was open to new and innovative ideas, but had a CRITICAL versus an open mind.” This can be analogous to the discussion on open borders. I have never been a proponent of open borders, but likewise I have never been anti-immigrant. Rather, I believe those wishing to come to the US should be looked at critically. Should they be looked at as critically as they are in Switzerland? Probably not, but we should be look critically at both individuals and numbers with an eye to how they will behave and be absorbed into the body politic of the United Sates.