<< The Body Politic

A path to citizenship

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Writing in The Atlantic, Eric Liu, a former Clinton speechwriter and creator of Citizen University, warns that with all the discussion that’s sure to come about immigration reform, we must be careful not to neglect discussing the destination: citizenship itself.  “What is this thing that needs to be earned?” he asks. “What, besides a bundle of rights, does the status entail and require? What do longstanding citizens take for granted and what is asked of brand-new Americans?”

Liu continues:

These kinds of questions aren’t just for immigrants. Which is why we need to couple immigration reform with a citizenship agenda — one that revitalizes the content and meaning of citizenship for everyone, and that connects the process of becoming American with the work of being American.

A robust citizenship agenda should have several core components. First, fixing the franchise. […]

Second, redoubled support for civic education. The rationale for having compulsory public schooling at all, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor often points out, is to make citizens. But today, in an age of reading and math testing, civics courses have atrophied or disappeared altogether in many of our schools. Civic education needs more funding, more teachers, more creativity in the curriculum, and more champions in national politics.

Third, a redoubled emphasis on the importance of Americanization. Yes, that word conjures up images of 19th-century busybodies trying to Anglicize Italians, Jews, and other non-WASPs. But properly understood, Americanization — ensuring that a diverse new generation buys into the content of our national creed  — remains a vital, necessary endeavor. We need to recommit to it in an inclusive 21st-century way — in classrooms and communities, and through new civic rituals that make something from our diversity. […]

The face and voice of America are changing more rapidly than our national self-story and institutions. Globalization, migration, technology, and the speed of media — these forces are centrifugal. We need a new American centripetal force, a movement of politics and culture and civic religion. Citizenship in a democracy can’t be just a matter of law; it has to be way of life. So yes, let’s get more immigrants on the path to citizenship — then let’s make sure the destination is more than an afterthought.

Head over to The Atlantic to read the whole thing.