Be My Guest?
By Helen Krieble
When you have guests in your home, do you immediately add them to your family health plan, give them keys to drive your car, and put them in your will? The answer is “of course not,” because we all understand the difference between guests and family. Current issues involving illegal immigration, American citizenship, and even the dilemma of Syrian refugees, should be considered in the same light.
America has always been open to people around the world seeking freedom and the opportunity to build a better life. That’s why we have legal immigration, permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship for several million new Americans each year. We have also been open to foreigners who only seek work in the U.S., to earn money they can scarcely dream about in much of the world. That’s why we have work visas, and several thousand temporary workers who use money earned in this country to capitalize better lives for themselves and their families back home. In addition, Americans have often been willing to accept refugees fleeing genocide, slavery, and religious or political persecution abroad. Whether we are discussing temporary workers, permanent immigrants, or refugees from Syria – all part of the current campaign debates – we should remain vigilant in protecting the value of American citizenship. It is easy to understand why that matters for people seeking to become naturalized citizens of the United States. But to the extent that refugees may stay permanently, as most have done historically, they are likely to show up eventually in the citizenship line, too.
Here’s why that matters. America is not just a place, but an idea – the idea that ordinary people can govern themselves, rather than be subject to kings or dictators. Legally becoming an American citizen is a significant accomplishment requiring a complex process. An immigrant must live in the U.S. for five years,speak English, learn about our history and government, be of good character and most important, renounce all other allegiances and promise loyalty to the United States and its Constitution – including a promise to defend the country if called upon. Citizenship is a very serious responsibility. Do we know that all the refugees the President wants to resettle in the U.S. are prepared to accept those responsibilities? He claims it is “un-American” not to admit these refugees, but is it un-American to allow people to come here who have no interest in supporting or defending our cherished founding principles?
Our nation’s founders realized a fundamental truth – democracy only works if people understand it. America only works if citizens understand its history and the important ideals upon which it is built. They must know that e pluribus unum, our national motto, means our strength comes not from diversity, but from unity – from our shared commitment to a form of government based on the responsible individual and on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is what makes our country exceptional and our people one. Only people who understand and explicitly agree to those principles should become American citizens.
Much of the debate about allowing refugees from dangerous places like Syria centers on whether we can be sure they are not future terrorists, certainly a legitimate concern. But there should be even more to the discussion, and so far no politician has asked the central question about the commitment of people we must assume are likely future American citizens. Is there any evidence that these people share our fundamental principles? Or will we eventually be offering citizenship – full voting privileges – to people merely because they are physically present in the U.S?
Citizenship should never be granted, or accepted, merely because someone happens to be here, no matter how they arrived. It should be conveyed carefully to people who understand its true meaning, and accept it with a hand over the heart, a lump in the throat, and a commitment to defend our unique American system.
This is the lens through which Americans should view all political issues – the lens of liberty. If we look through that lens, we can easily see that immigration to the U.S. cannot solve all the world’s difficult problems. That reality does not require that we sacrifice our compassion, or our commitment to be a beacon of freedom for the world. It does mean that before we make decisions on issues that could change the course of our nation’s history, we should carefully consider the two primary responsibilities of all citizens: to defend our freedom against all threats, and to pass it along to the next generation enhanced, and not diminished.
Helen Krieble is founder and president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, a noted authority on immigration policy and American citizenship.
You Have the Power – Are You Ready?
We live at a unique time in American history. Donald Trump in his inaugural address said, “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.” Speaker Paul Ryan says, “We want to reset the balance of power, so that people and the Constitution are rightfully restored.” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy adds, “We’ll continue to overturn excessive… regulations and return power to the people.” CPAC is dedicating its huge annual meeting to “We the People: Reclaiming America’s Promise.”
The emerging consensus among national leaders that we as responsible citizens should be in charge of our country is unique in my lifetime. It leads, however, to the critical question: are we as individuals ready and willing to rise to that challenge?
The American founders laid out our founding principles in the Declaration of Independence. It states that we have certain unalienable rights, that to secure these rights men have instituted governments, which derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. In other words, the sole responsibility of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, and as citizens we must give our consent to its actions for them to be legitimate. It has been by our inaction that we have consented to the erosion of our freedom.
Now, however, with a new call to give power back to the people, it is time for each of us to act. Many people find a distant federal government difficult to influence, but each of us can be a guardian for liberty in our local communities – attending town meetings, scrutinizing budgets to be sure tax dollars are spent correctly, looking at regulations and proposals to see if they impede our freedom, and letting our neighbors and friends know what we find. Working together in our towns, counties, and states, we as an army of engaged citizens can restore our freedoms and our ability to pursue our own happiness.
Our freedom is continually eroded in seemingly ordinary ways, even by our local governments. For example, I recently received a letter from my small town requiring me to make an appointment for the assessor to make a routine inspection in my home, to ensure my property tax was properly adjusted. I reminded them of the Bill of Rights and its protection against searches of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” without a search warrant from a judge, issued only with probably cause to suspect a crime. A little push-back from one citizen was all it took for the town to back down from an egregious affront to our liberty.
Informed citizens are taking similar action on behalf of freedom every day, but we need more such guardians all across America. The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation’s citizenship project, the “Lens of Liberty,” lays out the core meaning of citizenship, its responsibilities, and how to engage with our government. It explains how to look at every issue, proposal, or debate “through the Lens of Liberty.” Citizens should always ask whether a new idea – at any level of government – makes us more free, or less free. That’s why we have created freedom kits with several important tools to show responsible citizens how to do that. The kits are available at no cost at www.LensofLiberty.org.
It is heartening to hear national leaders recognize the importance of restoring our Constitutional framework, designed to ensure sovereign power remains with the people, not the government. Senators like Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner and others have campaigned successfully vowing to return power to the people. But voting, and electing new leaders, is only the first step. They can only give power to citizens who are ready to accept it, and exercise it responsibly to protect freedom.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich explains, “We loan power to the state, government does not loan it to the people.” But we cannot simply loan that power to the government, and then look away. Keeping a close watch is the central duty of citizenship.
From the beginning, Jefferson predicted the greatest threat to our experiment in self-government. He warned in 1821 that “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will… become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”
That is why we the people must act. Responsible citizenship is the essential ingredient of freedom, because freedom does not start in the White House – it starts in your house.