Badges of Citizenship

     At the end of the first movie to feature color photography, a certain “cowardly” lion gets a badge of courage and feels filled with bravery. Anyone watching The Wizard of Oz, though, realizes that he has become courageous throughout the entire movie, and that this ceremony is little more than fanfare to celebrate who he already is.

     Working in a high school on the Mexican-American border, I am surrounded by students caught in the immigration process. For one, he waited ten years to finally get approved and win the lottery for citizenship this past December. Another student has already been told by the United States government that he is a desirable applicant but must wait until he wins his place as one of the measly 26,000 Mexicans allowed to legally enter our country each year. And then there’s your high-honors student, involved in extracurriculars and volunteering, who is anxiously waiting to hear whether her September application for citizenship has been accepted.

     Those opposed to granting even partial amnesty to extralegal immigrants in the United States are missing a vital point. Providing illegal residents a means and a hope for legalization does not change who they are intrinsically any more than the Cowardly Lion’s badge made him courageous. For these people it would be a means to greater opportunity, yes, but opportunities for which their studies and work ethic were already prepared. Students who have successfully exited ESL programs, families who are working together to stay off welfare, individuals who are paying taxes through their employer’s reduced wages – all of these people will simply be validated, legalized, and given the means to contribute further to our community.

     An “earned” amnesty initiative would assure that only people who are already acting like responsible citizens would be granted citizenship. The vast majority of the 12 million extralegal immigrants are precisely these sorts of individuals and families, American in everything but name. A piece of paper does not change their morality, their ethics, their talents, their life, their liberty, or their pursuit of happiness – a piece of paper simply ensures that they can fully participate in our democracy and are afforded the rights citizens take for granted. The small percentage of immigrants who do not work towards an earned amnesty are the types of individuals who should be the focus of aggressive national security measures; these measures become feasible only when the number of “lawbreakers” is converted to a manageable number.

     Our country’s cities, restaurants, schools, fields, factories, and economy are buoyed by 12 million individuals who contribute their talents and ideas to our nation of immigrants. The best way to secure our borders, to effectively budget social security and welfare, to maximize worker output, and o encourage each American to strive for his/her very best is to enable some form of earned amnesty in an effort affirm the decision so many immigrants have already made – to work, to study, to be active in the community, to be American.

4 Responses to “Badges of Citizenship”

  1. John Moore Says:

    Matt, you are brilliant. I love the title too. In the infamous Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Taney said that African Americans could never be citizens because the color of their skin would forever be linked with slavery, regardless of whether they themselves had ever been a slave. He said that they had “badges of servitude” with a stigma that would forever disqualify them from the responsibilities of citizenship. Those who argue against even an earned amnesty use a similar logic. They say that because “illegal immigrants” broke the country to come here (or stay here), they are forever marked with a stigma. They can not be allowed a path to citizenship, they say, because it would somehow challenge the stigma, which these people think is well deserved.

  2. Education w/out Borders « Nonviolent Migration Says:

    […] Guy Fawks Day comment, but I hear it’s getting all the buzz.)  You can find his blog here: […]

  3. marcelinopena Says:

    Right…but I think there’s a vile profit motive to keep people in the criminal category. Business keep underpaid labor, US Government gets free tax revenue and the rest of the business community get their cut since the undocumented worker must pay for goods & services. Its amazing how much wealth the undocumented immigrants bring to this country all the while vicious propaganda is spread teaching the public to considered them as being criminals!

  4. mpw160 Says:


    Yes, I definitely agree with you that there is a profit-motive for the United States to “sit” on immigration. Stalled immigration reform means that they can continue to take advantage of working non-citizens. Another example of this can be seen in our myriad detention centers. Men, women, and children are detained there indefinitely and with no rights, all the while the prison is making money for being at full capacity. What’s more, the public is not even allowed to visit without a connection.

    Vile indeed!

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