Jeff Smith COLUMN
Want to share our birthrights? Join our family
Short of a full-page photo of Pam Anderson in a thong – and not just any old thong, but one made from the hide of a baby harp seal – there is no more sure-fire way to draw a crowd to your newspaper than to write about the rights and wrongs of the illegal immigrants.
Much of the British press wouldn’t even stop to ponder the morality of this dilemma: They’d go with Pamela.
We at the Tucson Citizen cleave to a higher standard. Whether our readers like it or not, we try to air all sides of the immigration issue and hope to teach and learn a little in the process. Sadly, one of the lessons that has been hammered into my little brain is that considerable numbers of our readers – those who bother to write – have no sympathy for anyone who enters our country by the back door, regardless of how wretched the life that drove them to it, and without compassion for the suffering and death that often greets their first steps on American soil.
Whatever differences I may have with the suits here at the Citizen, we share a moral certainty that the typical Latin American border-crosser is akin to the pioneers who braved an uncertain itinerary and a certain hostility in hopes of finding better opportunity in the unknown America west of the Mississippi. We call them mountain men and revere them as trailblazers – people of courage and audacity, who chanced ruin and death and forged an archetype that stirs our collective soul.
Never mind that many of them violated other countries’ sovereignty in doing so. Americans in buckskin, carrying Hawken rifles, tramped and trapped all over French territory in America – not the United States, just America – and sent boatloads of beaver pelts home long before the Louisiana Purchase legitimized their pioneering enterprise.
Remember the Alamo? It was part of Mexico when Crockett, Travis and another 180 or so illegal immigrants challenged 5,000 government troops to a fight. Gutsy … but illegal.
Revolution, by its very nature, is illegal. If it works and the revolting guys win, they get to write the history and make heroes of the living and martyrs of the dead. As in Texas.
But picture 180-odd illegal immigrants today, holed-up in the old Phelps-Dodge offices in Ajo, determined to fight to the death to win the old Gadsden Purchase back for Mexico. They’d soon be singing corridos about every last man in every last cantina south of Guaymas – the territory to the north having been ceded to correct the oversight of 1854, which left Arizona without oceanfront property. But I doubt it would play in Peoria, and I know damn well we’d get a load of angry letters at the Citizen, accusing us of coddling illegal immigrants and contributing to the bloodshed.
As luck would have it – rotten luck in this instance – the fringe movement to enfranchise immigrants arises in an election season that also sees another fringe project called Protect Arizona Now, all but certain to appear on our ballot.
Protect Arizona Now is the product of fear and bigotry toward immigrants. It would require proof of citizenship to register to vote and to cast ballots. Imagine your own reaction when you’re asked to present your papers. But an undercurrent of worry along border states leads some of us to accept such offensive intrusions.
This was a nonissue until this notion of giving immigrants the right to vote. It’s the brainchild of a couple of congressmen, nothing like a major force in politics, but its novelty has given it airtime far beyond its importance. And in Arizona you can almost hear the people behind PAN saying, “We told you so.”
Don’t be fooled into fearing a mirage.
Neither the illegal immigrants already here, nor the resident immigrants here by the good grace of government, represent any threatening force in electoral politics. They don’t vote in American elections, and they won’t be voting, as long as you and I and our heirs and assigns live.
Not because the United States fears and despises them as something lowly and contemptible. They can’t vote because they are not citizens.
Proponents of the franchise for immigrants here argue the classic “taxation without representation,” as though it were a constitutional guarantee. It’s a ringing credo, but it was only part of Samuel Adams’ speech. It suited the situation before the American Revolution for citizens of British colonies in America. Today’s situation with immigrants is not parallel. If immigrants wish to be enfranchised, a clear road is provided them: naturalized citizenship.
The right to vote is one of the foundation stones of U.S. citizenship. It is not unique to this nation, but while we Americans do not have exclusivity in enfranchisement, we have, from our country’s founding through history to today, held our right to vote especially significant and especially dear.
Our ancestors have bled and died for the right to decide which of us will represent the wishes of the rest of us in the government of all of us. The price of our freedom has been too great to simply pass out our most precious possession as if it were a party favor. Our children inherit it as a birthright. Other nations’ children possess birthrights we do not. If they want to share ours, they must join our family.
The way in isn’t a pop quiz, but neither is it a doctoral dissertation. If a person wants to vote as an American, he must become an American.
The Democrats say George W. Bush is lucky he was born here, because he’d never pass the citizenship exam. But he graduated Yale and flew jet fighters. John Kerry went to college, too, and has a drivers license so he can use the family sport utility vehicle. So we’ll be in capable hands whichever way it turns out.
Emma Lazarus would be tickled.
Citizen columnist Jeff Smith is a local boy trying to make good. His column appears on Wednesdays. Contact him by phone at (520) 455-5667 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.