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Immigration Is Not Citizenship

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I recently met a Dutch woman who has lived here in the United States for around 40 years. She told me that when she was 14 years old, she told her parents that her dream was to move to the United States. I asked her why and she said the reason was because she decided that there would be more opportunities for her in the United States than in Holland. So, she studied to become a healthcare professional, fulfilled her dream of coming to the U.S., and never returned to live in her home country.

One other thing that is worth noting: She never gave up her Dutch citizenship. She never had the desire to go through the hassle of becoming an American, preferring instead to remain a citizen of Holland.

One big problem, however, has arisen under the Trump regime: Her green card is now up for renewal and U.S. immigration authorities are dragging their feet on renewing it. While she was optimistic that the card would be renewed, she expressed concern about the possibility that it would not be renewed, in which case the authorities would deport her to Holland notwithstanding the fact that she has lived here in the United States for some four decades.

I have a friend who is Japanese. She too has lived here in the United States for around 40 years, mostly teaching Japanese in private schools. Both of her adult children were born here and, therefore, are American citizens. Not so with my friend, however. She retained her Japanese citizenship and has never become an American.

And so I ask this question: So what? What difference does it make that these two women have never become American citizens? Does it mean that they are bad people? Does it mean that they hate America? Does it mean that they haven’t assimilated?

Actually, it makes no difference at all. Neither of them is a bad person. If they hated America, I doubt that they would have chosen to stay here and raise children here. And after 40 years of living here, both of them seem to have assimilated quite well into American life.

No one, including my Japanese friend’s landlord, the private schools that have employed her, and the commercial establishments she patronizes, seems to care whether they are American citizens or not. In fact, I doubt most people would even bother to ask. It just doesn’t make any difference to them.

According to estimates, there are 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. None of them is an American citizen. That’s why they’re called illegal immigrants. Yet, virtually all of them have found their way into privately owned facilities to work or live.

Has the United States fallen into the ocean because that Dutch woman, my Japanese friend, and those 11 million illegal immigrants are living here without becoming American citizens? Has society collapsed?

Nope. If anything, they have contributed to the economic well-being of the country.

Who cares whether they become citizens or not? I certainly don’t. It doesn’t bother me one whit that that Dutch woman retained her Dutch citizenship, that my Japanese friend retained her Japanese citizenship, or that Mexican immigrants retain their Mexican citizenship.

Today there are more than a million Americans living in Mexico. Most of them are retirees. They have chosen to retain their American citizenship. Many of them have chosen not to assimilate into Mexican society. They still eat hamburgers instead of enchiladas, they still pay taxes to the IRS, they still speak English at home, they still vote here, and some of them even root for American sports teams.

Should those Americans be considered bad people — unpatriotic people — for not pledging allegiance to the flag of Mexico? Of course not! They have every right to just live their lives the way they choose. Who cares that they have chosen to remain American citizens?

This is one of the aspects of open immigration that anti-immigrant types just don’t get. They think that just because foreign citizens come to the United States to live or work, it is incumbent on them to become American citizens.

Not so!

What if everyone from around the world were free to travel to the United States every summer to tour the country? What if the law stated that they could only be here for three months of vacation and then have to return to their home country?

Would anyone be demanding that those vacationers become American citizens? Of course not! What if we extended the vacation time to one year? Or to an indefinite period of time? Would it make any difference to anyone that there were millions of foreigners coming to the United States for extended vacations while retaining their original citizenship?

What if the law was amended to provide that foreigners were free to come here either to tour or to work? What difference would it make if millions of people came here to vacation or to work for privately owned companies that were willing to hire them?

That’s the way things worked in the United States during our country’s century-long period of open immigration. People were coming here to travel, trade, or work and stayed for as long or as short of period of time as they wanted. Some stayed long — even their entire lives — without become American citizens, as that Dutch woman and my Japanese friend have. Some stayed only a few months, touring or working in seasonal jobs, and then returning home.

Through it all, there was no immigration crisis because there were no immigration controls. It was an open-borders system based on the principles of private property, free markets, and a limited-government republic. It was a system that engendered cooperation, harmony, and rising standards of living.

Americans would be wise to re-embrace a free-market immigration system today.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.