In the United States, “civil rights” is a term oft-viewed through one historic lens. However, today’s dialogues on immigration ask us to consider a wider interpretation. Are immigrants’ rights a civil rights issue? Who can participate in making that decision? Do undocumented immigrants have civil rights? None of these questions has an easy answer, as in the end, they force us to ask ourselves: Who will we stand up for and protect?
For thousands of years, humans have migrated across the globe in search of food, climate and security. Is it a human right to move? How have societies and communities defined “home” historically and how do we enforce those borders today? Is it possible to find a balance between security and freedom? At the heart of the immigration debate is how we as a modern community allocate our resources, including the physical space of an increasingly globalized world.
Though our nation began with a so-called “open door” policy, we continue to redefine our ideas of who should be prioritized for admittance into the United States. Our nation’s policy has historically been influenced by such factors as physical health, ethnic origin and a need to preserve human life. Today pundits examine who might best “contribute” to our nation. What does “contribute” mean? Is it a term defined by economic success? Educational potential? What do these questions say about our values as a nation?
The “hyphenated American” has long been part of the cultural conversation in the United States. The hyphen that links these two labels is a literal representation of the delicate balancing act all immigrants walk between separatism and inclusion. Is “American” an exclusionary term? Should it be? Are there values Americans hold in common inclusive of our many identities? How can these values drive immigration policy? The labels people choose for themselves and those that are chosen for them are both indicative of a larger national question: Who is an American?