The United States has a secret competitive advantage over most other nation. The advantage, however, is not one that normally comes to mind in the public or is a focus of attention of the media or politicians. The advantage is that the U.S. attracts the largest number of immigrants in the world, and it has been doing so since its founding. Indeed, since the late 1700s, over 55 million people have immigrated to the U.S. and made it their home (ACLU). To be sure, except for the Native Americans, every other U.S. citizen is either an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant. Originally, the majority of immigrants to the U.S. originally came from Europe. Today, however the majority of immigrant are from Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. There are many reasons why the U.S. is attractive to immigrants. Some of the more common reasons include to work, to study, to start a better life, to escape political, religious, or other types of persecution. Whatever the reason for coming the U.S., immigration’s long history of helping the U.S. grow, develop, and prosper (ACLU). To be sure immigrants have help ensure that the U.S. remain demographically young, culturally enriched, economically productive, technologically innovative and globally influential (Griswold). Despite the benefits that immigrants provide, immigration has never been completely acceptable to many sectors of the public, who fear that immigration will adversely affect their economic livelihood as well as their physical security. Rather than retain the traditional “open borders” principle that the U.S. has maintained over the centuries; the anti-immigration camp argues that potential migrants should be kept from entering the U.S., and those who have already entered should be denied the same rights as the citizens. However, if the U.S. expects to maintain its attractiveness to immigrants it must be more accepting of immigrants including providing immigrants with the same rights as U.S. citizens.
It is important to note that, contrary to what is commonly believed about both documented and undocumented immigrants; if they are present on U.S. soil, they are guaranteed many of the same rights as U.S. citizens. In fact, the only rights that are immigrants, or more specifically, non-citizens are expressly denied from enjoying are the right to vote and the right to run for political office, and the right to hold a job at the federal level. For all other rights, there are no limitations in the Constitution as to whether they only apply to citizens (Cole). In fact, most rights either make no classification or simply state that they apply to all people or persons (Cole). The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution’s lack of citizen/non-citizen distinction on who rights should be applied to mean that most constitutional rights extend to anyone who is located on U.S. soil. For example, in the 1886 case Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Sang Lee was an undocumented immigrant that owned and operated the Yick Wo laundry for over two decades. After refusing to pay for violating a local ordinance that prohibited him from operating a laundry in a wooden house, he was arrested. In finding that Lee had been wrongfully imprisoned, the court held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to all persons, without regard to, among other aspects, “nationality” including “an alien who has entered the country, and has become subject in all respects to its jurisdiction, and a part of its population although alleged to be illegally here (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 1886). The coverage of certain rights even extends abroad, if the individual is located on or in an area under U.S. control or administration. In the 2004 case, Rasul v. Bush, Rasul was arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and accused of being a terrorist. Rasul was then transported to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and detained. U.S. authorities said that because Rasul was not a citizen and not housed on U.S. soil, they did not have to provide the same rights, such as access to a court, a trial, and the presumption of innocence, that a U.S. citizen is guaranteed. The Supreme Court disagreed. According to the Court, it did not matter that Rasul was not a U.S. citizen; the fact that he was being detained by U.S. authorities, he had a constitutional right to a fair trial (Rasul v. Bush, 2004). Moreover, the Court also found that those rights were applicable anywhere the U.S. had control over, including Guantanamo Bay.
Outside of legal guarantees, however, immigrants should enjoy the same rights as citizens for moral, ethical reasons. Since its founding, the U.S. has consistently, demanded, supported, and fought for equality and equal treatment. To be sure, in the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence, the nation’s founding document, the Framers held that one of the self-evident truths of human existence is the “all men are created equal”. Subsequently, the nation’s leaders further imbedded the idea of equality into the American tradition with the drafting of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 which states in relevant part that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Additionally, the U.S. has been a leading, consistent and forceful voice for the recognition of equal rights and equal treatment around the world including gender equality, gay and lesbian equality, and minority populations equality. Consequently, for the U.S. to be such as strong advocate and champion for equality yet deny immigrants the equal enjoyment of the privileges and liberties of citizens, is morally, and ethically questionable. Moreover, it will, and should, lead to claims that the U.S. is a hypocrite and no longer worthy of the esteem it has obtained as a force for equality in the world.
Lastly, to deny immigrants the privilege of enjoying the same rights as citizens would be unconscionable and patently unfair. Documented immigrants are subject to the same duties and responsibilities as citizens. For instance, immigrant must: obey all federal, state and local laws; pay federal, state and local taxes; register with the Selective Service and can be drafted into the Armed Forces if necessary; and carry proof of identity and legal status. Undocumented immigrants, on the other hand, contribute to America’s economic growth through the work that they do; provide a range of essential services that many citizens prefer not to do; and add to the overall productivity of the nation. Accordingly, to require that they submit to such duties and responsibilities on the one hand; yet deny them the basic fundamental rights that citizens enjoy would be manipulative, unfair and unjust. During, the Colonial period, one of the major issues that the Framers found unacceptable with the Colonies relationship with the United Kingdom was that they were taxed without having representation in the British Parliament. The Framers considered this extremely unfair to the point that many were willing to fight to eliminate a continuation of the situation. Denying immigrants, the same rights as citizens is similarly unfair in that, just as the Colonials were vital to British power; immigrants are equally vital to the survival of the nation. Having such importance but denying them rights is as unfair if not more so then the unfairness encountered by the Framers.
Unfortunately, despite the nation’s foundation being built on immigrants, and as well as our current and future need for immigrants to be able to sustain our way of life; there has almost always been a strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S., especially over the last 100-150 years. Indeed, during that span of time, the nations has experienced the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Japanese internment camps of World War II and the forceful repatriation of Haitian migrants in 1991 (ACLU). Most recently, presidential candidate Donald Trump has gained significant support from certain sectors of the public over his anti-immigrant philosophy. One of the current themes of anti-immigrant sentiment is that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, should be denied from enjoying the same rights as a U.S. citizen. However, if the U.S., as mentioned wish to avoid an economic decline, it cannot allow the voices of anti-immigration succeed in closing our borders or, more relevantly, creating a climate of which the denial of rights will convince immigrants to avoid even trying to come to America.
The U.S. has a problem. Its population is shrinking. A shrining population can significant affect the economic development of the nation. One of the ways that a declining population can be remedied is through immigration. In fact, the U.S. has had a long history of self-development and growth through immigration. There has also been, however, an almost equally long American tradition of anti-immigration. Recently this has been most focused on denying immigrants the same rights as citizens. If the U.S. hopes to continue its development, it must become more accepting of immigrants including accepting the principle that the enjoy the same rights as citizens. In fact, under the law, anyone on U.S. or under U.S. control is guaranteed the enjoyment of the same rights as citizens. In addition, it makes moral and ethical sense that they should enjoy the same rights. Lastly, to deny them such a privilege would be unfair and decidedly un-American.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The Rights of Immigrants: ACLU Position Paper.” ACLU. aclu.org, 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016 http://www.aclu.org/rights-immigration-aclu-position-paper
Cole, David. “Are Foreign Nationals Entitled to the Same Constitutional Rights as Citizens.” Jefferson Law Review. 25 (2003): 367-388. Web. http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1302&context=facpub
Griswold, Daniel. “Immigrants have enriched American culture and enhanced our influence in the world.” Cato Institute. Cato.org, 18 Feb. 2002. Web. 30 Jan. 2016. http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/immigrants-have-enriched-american-culture-enhanced-our-influence-world
Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466. Supreme Court of the United States. 2004. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-334.ZO.html
Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356. Supreme Court of the United States. 1886. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/118/356