One of the things I greatly enjoyed doing as an undergrad at UNF was being part of the Ethics Bowl. The experience was interesting, engaging, and, despite our loss, enjoyable.
In the course of preparing cases for the competition, we made sure to present our cases to each other in an effort to try to work out any kinks. Fortunately, we had two members who had done this the year before, and another few who had some experience with the Bioethics Bowl, too. This greatly helped us in our prep, and we certainly wouldn’t have done as well as we did without it.
Of course, our ensuing conversations on these cases were not free from contention. There is one that continues to bug me today, about which I am going to dedicate this post to. For those who were on the UNF Ethics Bowl team last year, this contentious issue should be familiar to you. For those of you who were not, don’t worry — just keep on reading and it should all be clear to you.
So, what exactly am I talking about?
Well, there was a case that dealt with the question of whether the 14th Amendment was up for . . . you could say . . . a checkup, if you will. Was its provisions still acceptable, or was there a need for some change?
In our team conversations, I can remember a point about which I had a hard time agreeing to. I think I even had a little argument with one of my teammates about this. Specifically, there was a point made about US citizenship being a right rather than a privilege, as well as some talk about blaming children when they weren’t at fault, and the wrongness of doing so, etc, etc.
My contention is with the former point, from which this post’s title comes from. I am under the impression that US Citizenship is a privilege, and not a right. Just by the very nature of how we receive citizenship, and by an absurdity in saying that citizenship is a right, I find this argument to be convincing. Let me spell out what I mean by all of this.
Let’s start with the first point: the nature of how we receive citizenship. Unless I happen to be crazy, saying that something is a “privilege” entails that the person somehow earned the thing in question. Conversely, saying that something is a “right” entails that anyone deserves it by default. So, in saying that a driver’s license is a privilege means, to me at least, that you had to earn the permission to operate a motor vehicle. And saying that education is a “right” means that anyone deserves to get an education, and thus should be available to all.
Now, think about how people tend to get citizenship here. You really have one of two main choices: either you emigrate here from another country, and have to go through a process by which you end up earning a green card, and then earning the permission to file the paperwork to gain citizenship, or you are simply born on US soil.
The first option certainly seems to me to be something that comes as a privilege rather than a right. You have to earn your way to citizenship by a process (which can take years, but that isn’t the important point).
The second option might appear to be a right, but I wouldn’t say that it’s so all things considered. Part of something being earned is that there is some criteria upon which one can say that it’s earned. When there is something very basic as a criterion — something that is simply too universal to be considered as anything else — then, even with the criteria, it could be a right even though it’s technically earned.
But is “being born on US soil” that basic? I wouldn’t say so. “Being a human” would be, given how utterly universal it is. But by limiting things to such a relatively smaller scale (US territory), I don’t think the checklist could be considered as for a “right” rather than a “privilege.” It’s a bit too narrow.
As such, I’d even consider the second option as a “privilege” given that there’s a criterion that must be fulfilled (and thus earned), and the narrow nature of this criterion.
But even if that, for instance, doesn’t hold, then there’s still another inherent problem I find in saying that (US) citizenship is a right. There’s a point at which things get a bit too absurd. Here’s my thinking:
Let’s say that US citizenship is a right. Essentially, anyone would have to be eligible for US citizenship given this, because, being a “right,” there can’t be any non-universal criterion in place, or otherwise it would be a “privilege.” So it would need to be available to anyone. Without any checks. Without any real questions. Without any “path to citizenship” talk we keep hearing these days.
Now that’s absurd. And guess what? Here’s something that’s more absurd: there can’t be any “quotas” in place either, because limits on something are essentially another non-universal criteria, which means that we’d go back to square one. Unless there can be something that’s narrow yet universal, I don’t see how one could view citizenship as a right cogently. (And, in fact, the contradictory nature of the requirement for saving the view already precludes the possibility of it being possible.)
Of course, all of this (generally speaking) gets into other points related to this topic, such as its implications on babies born in this nation, which I don’t find that hard to tackle if one looks at things rationally rather than emotionally. Or on the issue of illegal immigration. Or on the issue of what other nation’s citizenship policies are relative to ours (which I also don’t find that hard to tackle either).
However, for the sake of post space, I won’t go over it now. If anyone’s interested, however, we could take some time to talk about it in the comments section below. But I’d also like to ask you guys, if you do comment, that you also try to focus on what I’ve written here as well. I find this to be the foundation to the other problems that I’ve mentioned in the paragraph above. Tackling this might just be enough to solve those other issues . . . . . . hopefully.
George (“The Meager Weakling”)