I Am Not an Aspiring Citizen

From the July-August 2014 PNL #836

by Aly Wane

As I write this, another Fourth of July is approaching, and I have been struggling with how I feel about the concept of citizenship. One of the strategies being adopted by the immigration reform movement is to rebrand undocumented immigrants as “aspiring Americans” and “aspiring citizens.” I certainly understand why this makes sense within the confines of DC politicking. For a long time, undocumented people have been portrayed as dangerous “illegals” whose criminality is inherent in their beings. It has taken a lot of work and effort from activists, many of them undocumented themselves, to organize, share their stories, and reject the old narrative.

However, as an undocumented person myself, I am uncomfortable with the term “aspiring citizen.” I want to be clear that I do continue to seek citizenship because I have been in this country most of my life, and because I identify with US culture more than any other country’s. However, I seek citizenship for practical reasons, such as the right to work and vote in a community that I have called home most of my life.

Home. Source: humanityhallows.co.uk

Being undocumented for so many years has taught me about the dehumanization that comes with nationalism. As I write this, there is a humanitarian crisis happening at the border. Recently, there has been an increase in unaccompanied minors trying to reach the US. They are mostly refugees from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (all countries negatively impacted by US foreign policy). The detention facilities at the border are operating at capacity so some of these children are being re-routed to other facilities around the country.

On July 1, three buses containing approximately 140 migrant children were met with angry protesters in Murietta, CA who didn’t want these kids to be placed in a local processing facility. Many protesters draped themselves in US flags and chanted, “USA! USA!” while screaming about getting the “illegals” out of their community. The curious thing about this protest is that these protesters have already won the political battle. The President, shamefully, in my opinion, has asked for the authority to fast-track the deportation of these kids. There was no clear political goal. It was simply an Orwellian “Hate Hour,” a nationalistic venting of hatred for its own sake. These protesters have simply decided that these poor traumatized children were less than human because they weren’t citizens and therefore not deserving of love or compassion.

I believe that nationalism is also the dehumanizing force that is at the heart of our foreign policy. Take the War in Iraq, for example. Our foreign policy leaders do not see Iraqis as full human beings. The US lost approximately 4,500 soldiers in that war, but the number of Iraqi casualties according to the Center for International Studies is one million. In addition, there were 4.5 million Iraqis who were displaced. Yet, when we “left” the country, the rationale coming from both parties was that it was time for the Iraqis to “stand up” and “take responsibility” for their country, as if they hadn’t sacrificed enough and should have been grateful for the invasion. The condescension in that rationale is remarkable. The assumption here is obviously that a US life is more precious than an Iraqi life, and part of that prejudice is due to a toxic nationalism.

I am also uncomfortable with the term “aspiring citizen” because I have consciously started to call myself a global citizen, fundamentally rejecting the idea that I am “alien” in any way. I believe that many other undocumented migrants are having a similar change in consciousness. Our sense of allegiance is to the globe, not one country over another. As migrants we assert the right to live, love and work where we want to, in the same way that multinational corporations can cross borders freely. If capital has the right of movement, then surely labor does. Frankly, in an age when we are facing deep environmental catastrophes, a sense of global solidarity will be necessary for our species to survive. Climate change and the nuclear threat are but two crises that require a sense of belonging to the planet, not to just one country.  

The immigration debate is one that is filled with tension, bigotry, and xenophobia, but it is also a debate filled with hope. Hope for recognition of a greater interconnectedness. July 4 is a day to celebrate this country’s independence, but my sense is that the US will only achieve greatness if it realizes that it is but one nation in the global community, and that interdependence is just as valuable a quality.

Aly is an undocumented activist and a member of the SPC Steering Committee.