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From the Kitchen Table


Honorary Citizens

by Peg Luksik
 

This is the day every year when every person who lives in America can claim to be an "honorary Irishman". Any individual who wishes, participates in the fun of the Wearing of the Green and Hoisting a Brew for the Irish. There is no obligation to actually become an Irish citizen incumbent on anyone.

And for one day each year, that is a perfectly acceptable arrangement.
Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of people who have decided that they can be "honorary Americans" EVERY day of the year. They want to participate in the perks of citizenship without actually becoming a citizen.
They want access to American schools without learning the language that Americans speak. They want to be treated in American hospitals and clinics without having to pay for either the care or the insurance. They want to be paid American wages in American dollars without paying American taxes.
The result is a situation in which everyone loses.

Those who only want the perks are losing. Their inability to communicate in English traps them in a second class status. They are like Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, who was more trapped in poverty by her inability to speak well than by anything else. Their refusal to fully join our society keeps them from the chance to actually achieve the fullness of America's promise of success.

Those who are citizens but share ethnicity with their "honorary" peers suffer. They are always on the defensive, looked at with suspicion by their neighbors and co-workers even though they have followed all the rules.

America is a nation that developed through welcoming others. There is no such thing as an "American" last name. You can find the O'Toole's living between the Goldstein's and the Gallante's. And each of them self-describes as Americans. In our unique melting pot, the best of many ethnicities combined to form something exceptional.

The "honoraries" hurt the entire nation by refusing to actually join it. They create divisions in communities that are unnecessary and hurtful.

Dealing forcefully and openly with the issue of illegal immigration is not being mean. It is acknowledging that the exceptional nature of America is worth preserving and protecting. It is ensuring that those who have followed the rules and become citizens receive the welcome and respect that they have earned. And it is insisting that each and every person who comes to this nation be given ALL the opportunities that come with citizenship.

Being an honorary citizen is terrific for one day. But the gift of American citizenship is something to be treasured every day of the year. And protecting that treasure is more than worth the effort.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


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