By Sarah Nelson, EdD., Contributor to US Daily Review.
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The journey to a more perfect union began with the guiding principles found in the US Constitution. The authors of this document shared a similar cultural background, making it easier for them to define the framework for a more perfect union. Like the founding fathers, early immigrants did not easily keep in touch with family or friends from their country of origin. However, today’s immigrants can keep in touch with their extended families living in their country of origin using tweeter, face book, instant messaging and cell phones. This paradigm shift has not only affected immigration patterns in the USA but the public policy debate on how natural born citizens interact with naturalized citizens to progress toward a more perfect union.
After a 14 hour flight, I stood in line waiting for that stamp of approval from the immigration officer. He stamped my passport, smiled and said ‘welcome to America’. I called my family to tell them I had arrived safely. I am the new immigrant who is able to stay instantaneously connected with family in my country of origin. This has complicated the process of earning my stripes as an American because 20 years later, people still ask me ‘you have an accent, where are you from’. I reply with my US city and US state but they seem dissatisfied, so they follow up with ‘I mean where are you from originally?’ when I name my country of origin they seem satisfied with ‘that’ answer more than the original answer that named my US city and state. Living in America while staying connected to one’s country of origin has also affected how we respond to our immigration policies. Many recent immigrants are empathetic to causes that affect other foreigners residing in America. As they share their perspective with natural born citizens they offer a broader understanding of what it means to be an American.
Empathy for those who work in our country without authorization has increased because Americans lack the political will to deport people who reside here illegally. Those who view this as an economic issue, like me, favor issuing work visas to people without a criminal record. I believe businesses operating in a free market system should have the liberty to hire suitable workers without government interference. My memories of working limited hours while saving to pay for tuition in graduate school make me empathetic toward foreigners who need work. The preference for a ‘work authorization’ policy is neither a path to citizenship nor a permanent residence stamp of approval. It is a process of repairing the damage done by ‘green card’ marriages created by people who need to work legally in order to provide for their families. Those who view ‘work authorization’ as an immigration issue, favor deportation of all undocumented residents. How we respond to this dilemma facing US will affect our progress toward a more perfect union.
When naturalized citizens can stay connected to their country of origin, their love of America keeps them here but their love of the family they left behind keeps them attached to a foreign land. When they vote for issues that impact new immigrants they do so with a heightened level of empathy that may not be shared by natural born citizens. When they respond to war, they ‘see the deaths of our enemies’ as ‘deaths of our family members’ in some cases. Many new immigrants send money ‘back home’ and often contribute to the well being of their families. It is these experiences that have complicated our definition of a more perfect Union. In 2006, there were a total of 70,331 births in Colorado, 14% of those births involved a non-Hispanic white person and someone of a different culture. Inter-cultural families are now becoming more involved in the broader conversation of what it means to be an American. While the earlier generation of Americans held ‘these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal’, the newer generation of Americans is having to navigate complicated cultural patterns that require them to live up to these truths without prejudice. In his farewell speech President G. W. Bush expressed pride in his title as an American citizen. His departure ushered in President Obama whose inter-cultural background raised questions of allegiance to US and his eligibility to be President. One wonders what responsibility, if any, President Obama has to respond to these questions.
President Obama may be the first president who spent part of his childhood outside of the USA but he won’t be the last. Many immigrants find it more affordable to send their children ‘back home’ for summer than pay the high cost of child care in the United States. They also believe that time spent with extended family helps ground the child in his or her cultural roots. These inter-cultural changes will permanently shape our journey toward a more perfect union. When my son was 4yrs old, he asked “mommy, daddy, did you know our family doesn’t match?” This question began our family journey of deciding what we would teach our children about being an American. In educating our children, we have decided to use color to describe things and culture to describe people. We also teach our children the principles outlined within the US Constitution. These principles guide us toward a more perfect union the same way they guided our founding fathers, in spite of the cultural diversity new immigrants bring to the United States. In reality, my son has more in common with his Korean friend down the street than he has with his cousins living in Kenya. In future, our journey to a more perfect union will be defined less by national origin and more by our shared love of country. God Bless America!