Sometimes we have a national conversation without realizing it. We talk about different aspects of the same larger issue without connecting the dots.
That’s what’s happening now with regard to the meaning of American citizenship and the basic rights that come with it.
On one side are those who think of citizenship as a matter of exclusion and privilege — of protecting the nation by keeping out those who are undesirable, and putting strict limits on who is allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship.
On the other are those who think of citizenship inclusively — as an ongoing process of helping people become full participants in America.
One part of this conversation involves immigration. I’m not just referring the question of whether or how people living in the United States illegally can become citizens. (Courtesy of our fast-growing Latino population, 70 percent of whom voted for President Obama last November, we’re far closer to resolving that one than we were a year ago.)
It’s also a question of who we want to join us. Engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are Emma Lazarus’ immortal words, written in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me.”
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