In the late 1990s, when I was in graduate school in Canada, there was an ongoing debate about what it meant to be a Canadian. Some of this soul-searching can be attributed to the fallout of the failed 1995 Quebec referendum. It was also a product of Canadian’s reflecting on how it should deal with a diverse population that included multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, minority groups, along with both liberal and illiberal minorities. For many in Canada, the mosaic metaphor that animated many discussions also present a challenge for how the unify the country, while still respecting diversity.
As an American in Canada, the idea of a mosaic was a stark contrast to the “melting pot” American metaphor. America was a place that adopted what was best from other cultures and made it our own. Whether it was art, music, clothing, or food, if was seen as valuable it was embraced. But if America was a melting pot, what did it mean to be an American?
I remember a professor of mine asking just this question. He claimed that just as it was difficult to determine what it meant to be a Canadian, it was also difficult to identify what it meant to be an American. In reality it isn’t a difficult question—or at least it shouldn’t be a difficult one. My answer is simple: to be an American, one need only swear to uphold certain principles and ideals. The Constitution, interpreted by the courts and supplemented by documents such at the Federalist Papers and the Declaration of Independence, are the embodiment of these principles and ideals. If you buy into those, then you are an American.
Here is the oath that those becoming citizens take:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.
In case you are wondering, the “so help me God” clause is optional. Just as there is no religious test in the Constitution to hold office, there is no religious test to become a citizen:
If you are unable or unwilling to take the oath with the words “on oath” and “so help me God” included, you must notify USCIS that you wish to take a modified Oath of Allegiance. Applicants are not required to provide any evidence or testimony to support a request for this type of modification. See 8 CFR 337.1(b).
All of this is just a long-winded way of saying that the President’s recent statement is about doing away with due process is extremely disturbing:
We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2018
This is one of the most un-American things a president could say. We are a nation of laws, and even though these individuals are not citizens, they are potentially acting within the laws that cover asylum.
On this 4th of July, it is time for the President to remember that being an American isn’t about singing an anthem or standing for flag: its about respecting our Constitution and the rule of law.