A good friend of mine is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at West Texas A&M. Yeah, there's actually a University in West Texas. When he's not pitching class ideas that involve learning history, politics, and martial arts or preparing for his new career as a superspy, he's bitchslapping the Minutemen in their local newspapers. I can't find a link online, so here's the text of his editorial that ran yesterday.
Guest Column: Do most Americans deserve their citizenship?
By Rick Parrish
In this latest debate over illegal immigration, we have heard from economists and politicians, U.S. citizens and recent immigrants. So far we have determined these facts:
Based on all available evidence, illegal immigration either helps or hurts the U.S. economy; it either does or does not have an effect on national security; it is either part of the American way or a momentary aberration; it is either a left-wing election-year stunt or right-wing xenophobia. All this we know for certain.
Many of us also seem to know for certain that we do not want illegal immigrants gaining access to all the rights and privileges they would receive if they were allowed to remain in the U.S. and seek citizenship.
Unfortunately, there has been very little mention of the obligations of U.S. citizenship that these immigrants should meet, perhaps because so few of us who are already citizens meet the obligations ourselves. The most fundamental of these obligations is to maintain some basic level of knowledge about the rights and privileges that we don't want these immigrants to get.
Even as 78 percent of us decry the singing of "our" national anthem in Spanish, 61 percent of us don't know the words to it in English, and 38 percent of us don't even know the song's name.
Although many of us argue that illegal immigrants should not have the same legal protections that we as citizens enjoy, 64 percent of us cannot name a single U.S. Supreme Court justice; 58 percent cannot name a single Cabinet-level department; and only .1 percent (yes, that's point one percent) of us can name all five First Amendment freedoms.
In contrast, 22 percent can name all five members of the cartoon family "The Simpsons," and 41 percent can name two out of three "American Idol" judges.
Many U.S. citizens also are angry that illegal immigrants would gain the right to vote upon becoming citizens, yet too many of us shirk our own obligation to participate in the democratic process that we claim to hold so dear. In the 2004 presidential election, widely regarded as one of the most important in recent history, only 64 percent of those currently eligible to vote actually bothered. Here in Texas, the turnout among eligible voters for last year's state constitutional amendment vote was a miserable 18 percent.
Even worse, the overwhelming majority of those who do vote fail to do it in a thoughtful, judicious manner. In the last presidential election, 85 percent of voters reported that they knew who they were going to vote for before the campaigns even started - they never even considered the issues or entertained alternative points of view. They just looked for the little "R" or "D" after the candidates' names, and their minds were made up.
I don't know if immigration is good or bad for the economy, and I don't know if it helps or hurts national security. But I do know that before we try to stop others from gaining our rights and freedoms in the name of history or justice or whatever, we should meet our own obligations to be reasonably well-informed, moderately active U.S. citizens ourselves. Until those of us born in this country invest the time and effort to understand and appreciate what citizenship both grants and requires, we have no more claim to "citizenship" than those who were born elsewhere.
Rick Parrish is an assistant professor of political science at West Texas A&M University.