Citizenship

I'm a Canadian Mennonite Living in the States. Who Gets My Allegiance?

Image via /Shutterstock

It’s a pretty sweet situation to be in. I’ve been mostly satisfied with my lack of national allegiances.

But I am starting to feel that my neither-here-nor-there status is not the responsible choice for me. This land where I’ve lived for 23 years is my home, and I feel like I need to fully claim that fact. I lingered for a long time on the fringes of this community. Living on the edge is nice because I can keep my hands clean of the messiness of American civic life (and it does get messy), but this also keeps my hands out of the activity of helping clean up the mess and build a stronger nation. My hands aren’t stained with the faults of this country, but neither are they calloused from building it up.

Becoming a Better America

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

I am a newly minted American. Four years ago I passed the naturalization test and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. But I had been living as a citizen before I took the oath. Those who do not have the legal status of citizen often act as citizens. They attend PTA meetings, pay taxes, and engage in spirited public discussions about the common good. Citizenship is not only a legal status, but also a moral category and a set of practices.

President Obama recognizes this. Last night’s address described executive actions that will protect up to five million people from deportation and provide them with permits to work legally. People without valid immigration documents will be eligible to stay in the country temporarily if they have lived in the United States for more than 5 years, if they have children who are American citizens or legal residents, and if they register and pass criminal background checks.

Obama is not offering people citizenship, but his address reflected on the meaning of community belonging. “These people” often act like citizens, he seemed to be saying, because they “came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America's success.” To those of us who are citizens legally, Obama also had a message: Become better Americans.

Waiting for a Miracle

JUANA TOBAR SAYS she is waiting for a miracle from God. She’s the mother of four wonderful children and a grandmother of two young girls. Her husband, Carlos, a U.S. citizen, calls her the “glue of their family” and his soul mate. Juana has lived in North Carolina for more than 20 years and serves as an usher in her church, but in the coming weeks the Obama administration will be deciding whether or not to deport her back to Guatemala.

Juana’s case is not unusual. According to its own statistics, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported approximately 400,000 immigrants per year since President Obama took office in 2009. In March, he’s set to reach the dubious marker of 2 million deportations, more than any other president. Many of us who work with immigrant communities are left asking: Why would a president—especially one who enthusiastically supports immigration reform that would give the undocumented a chance to stay in the country and earn citizenship—so aggressively deport the same immigrants who could be legalized through reform?

Our best guess is that when Obama entered office, his administration made a calculation that if they showed they were serious about enforcement, lawmakers would be more likely to come to the table and negotiate. That goodwill never materialized. Now, five years later, ICE is feeling increasing heat from immigrant advocates.

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Fasting for Families and Immigration Reform

A Fast 4 Families cross, ribbon and button hang around the neck of each faster for immigration Photo courtesy Fast for Families.

To join Jim Wallis in prayer and fasting, click here.

I was grateful to be at the beginning of the Fast for Families on November 12. Courageous leaders from many communities were making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is really at stake in the fight for immigration reform. It was an honor to commission the core fasters, such as my Sojourners’ colleague Lisa Sharon Harper and Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and a disciple of Cesar Chavez, by placing crosses around their necks as they began abstaining from food. 

After 22 days, the core fasters had grown weak, nearing the point of medical danger. When they decided to pass the fast to a new group, I was humbled to join the effort this way. On Tuesday, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I received the cross from Eliseo that I had given to him three weeks before.  

At Tuesday’s ceremony, each of us shared why we were committing to this discipline and willing to subsist only on water for various lengths of time. 

Let's Go Beyond Consumerism, Citizenship, and Individualism

Bulatnikov / Shutterstock

Rather than stumbling into single-serving citizenship, what if we learned to be a body together? Bulatnikov / Shutterstock

This morning at breakfast, I was reading an article in the newspaper about how the Affordable Care Act is negatively affecting some individuals — especially those who buy their own insurance, rather than receiving it through an employer. The article was interesting, but what struck me the most was the way the problem was framed. Rather than approaching the story from a public policy angle, the article mainly focused on the reaction of consumers of health-care goods and services. The crux of the article was whether some individuals should be required to buy a product they might not want or need so that other individuals could have affordable access to health-care products they need desperately but might not be able to afford under the old regime.

The dilemma was presented as a story of tension between healthier consumers and less healthy consumers fighting to get the best deal for their health-care dollars. But could there be another way of thinking about health care, and about our society as a whole? Is there a framework that would allow us to consider these questions in a way that assumed connection, caring, and community between individuals, rather than the zero-sum competition of the market?

John Boehner Ducks Taking Personal Stand on Immigration Citizenship Debate

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that “immigration reform isn’t about him.” Denying CBS’s Bob Corner insight in to his own personal views on immigration, Boehner refused to share details about what parts of the immigration bill he feels should pass the House when it comes time for their final debates. Boehner, who is opposed to granting citizenship for illegal immigrants, claimed the bill which passed the Senate last month will “not pass the House.”

The Guardian reports:

The Senate has passed a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, which Republican opponents have called an "amnesty" that would reward lawbreakers and attract more illegal immigrants. Boehner said taking a personal stand on the issue would make it harder for him to find consensus on immigration in the House.

Read more here.

Letter to a Kingdom Citizen

Visitor, LitDenis / Shutterstock.com

Visitor, LitDenis / Shutterstock.com

A common sentiment that’s expressed by both the left and the right on the issue of immigration reform is that immigrants need to prove their faithful adherence to the law and contribution to society before they’re put on some path to citizenship. It's redemption by works. It’s a reasonable means to verify their willingness to contribute to society. But a disconcerting irony dawned on me amid all this mutual give-and-take language we hear about immigrants; that is, many citizens themselves do not heed the same exhortation to contribute to their country today.

This is encouraged by the fact that citizenship today is identified entirely by a piece of paper, not by a way of life — by ink, not by deed. Although one’s citizenship technically includes a whole list of rights and duties, the fulfillment of these rights and duties is not a part of the identification process. This is understandable, as it’s very difficult to tell whether someone is trying to contribute to the state or merely trying to get what they can out of their legal privileges. I'm not out to start a Civil Reformation or something. But these thoughts have reminded me that the standard the Bible sets for Christian citizenship in heaven is something else entirely.

New Calvinists today have hammered home the doctrine of justification by faith through grace, not by works or legalistic moralism. Kingdom citizenship is claimed by faith in Christ. Got it.

Yet, Scripture is emphatic that Kingdom citizenship is not identified by faith alone, but also by works.

Campaign for Citizenship Highlights Harmful Effects of Family Separation

Photo by Ivone Guillen, Sojourners

Photo by Ivone Guillen, Sojourners

On Jan. 17, faith leaders, DREAMers, and community leaders from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to launch a new Campaign for Citizenship — an effort to pressure Congress to enact reform that prioritizes citizenship.  

The Campaign for Citizenship, a project of PICO National Network, invited our country’s leaders to gather and view the “Separated Families Supper Table.” At the table gathered DREAMers and clergy next to empty seats representing the millions of homes around the country experiencing family separation as a result of our broken immigration system.  

As each member at the table spoke, they expressed how every day, families like theirs have to sit at their dinner tables and try to cope with the fact that a family member is missing. They have to live in constant worry for their family member’s safety and well-being in a distant land that is oftentimes unfamiliar to them. Families are experiencing real loneliness and grief. 

Voting: Responsibility or Privilege?

Vote image,  file404 / Shutterstock.com

Vote image, file404 / Shutterstock.com

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time, and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief, and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages, and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

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