The Conflict Over Citizenship Is Bigger Than Question on Census

July 23, 2019 Updated: July 29, 2019


President Donald Trump claims that he found a better way than a citizenship question to discover the number of actual citizens in the country, and hence that he won the administrative battle of the 2020 Census. He may be right. But make no mistake, the political war over citizenship is far from won.

For citizens, the controversy over the citizenship question on the Census has less to do with getting demographic records straight and more with insisting that the distinction between citizens and noncitizens matters and is legitimate and just, not obsolete and racist.

Of what benefit is it, after all, to know the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country if there is no real moral or legal significance to that distinction?

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) insisted that the 2020 Census must not have a citizenship question “so that all of our people here in the United States are counted precisely as the Constitution declares.” She thus conflates the sovereign “we the people” and the mass of illegal and legal residents as simply “our people.”

If there’s no acknowledgment of a coherent, sovereign people who can consent to legitimate government, then there can be no moral justification for anyone to rule. In that case, the person who can muster the most force rules, but only by the loathsome title of tyrant, and only because at the level of barbarism might makes right.

Citizenship matters because the distinction between republican and tyrannical government matters, because right is right, regardless of might.

Ultimately, this is not Trump’s fight. It properly belongs to those who still believe they constitute a distinct U.S. people, and they’re armed with their duties to fight for their moral right to exist as such.

What Is Citizenship?

Citizenship is an agreement between certain individuals who bind themselves together with a cord of rights and duties that sets them apart as a distinct people, whose membership is exclusive. Membership has to be exclusive, because a people’s collective ability to protect its members’ rights is only as good as its expectation that its members will fulfill their duties.

These duties include obeying the laws and being willing to die in defense of the country. To expect that people will perform such duties after forcing their way into and forcefully enjoying the fruits of a society where rights are protected is to be “far gone in Utopian speculations,” as Alexander Hamilton wrote.

Why should we expect that our population of possibly 29 million illegal aliens would volunteer to fight and die for the United States?

Citizenship in the United States is a privilege that can be renounced or revoked, not a natural right for all humanity. Yet, progressives reject as illegitimate the very distinction between citizens and noncitizens every time they use the term “undocumented immigrant” instead of “illegal alien.”

In essence, progressives thus assert that there’s no distinction between an exclusive sovereign people and a mere band of robbers. In fact, according to some, that’s all Americans have ever been.

To the contrary, the United States was explicitly founded on the one thing that distinguishes a people from a mere band of robbers: acknowledgement of a moral code that transcends material interests and distinguishes liberty from license. The American founders justified our Revolution by the belief that the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence were as binding on Americans as they were on King George III.

Association through citizenship in the people who still acknowledge that transcendent standard is precious to us Americans who understand it as such.

Why Citizenship in America Is Not Racist

Because citizenship is by definition exclusive, progressives imply that the criteria for membership must be racist and therefore illegitimate. One has even called citizenship “the legal enforcer of racism.”

Although a people may choose any reason for including some and excluding others, what matters to Americans is that would-be citizens acknowledge our transcendent standard of natural right and appreciate our republican form of government. There’s plainly no essential connection between those criteria and race.

Perhaps, ironically, the Americans who understand citizenship best are those immigrants who have undergone the legal process of naturalization to become U.S. citizens. They know that citizenship involves an agreement of rights and duties irrespective of race because they have all formally taken an oath to join that agreement.

Native-born U.S. citizens would benefit from knowing the text of that oath since they tacitly agree to it by remaining in the United States as adults. It involves a promise to renounce allegiance to all foreign nations and to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America,” sacrificing one’s life for it if necessary.

The root of the word “nature” is “natus,” which means birth. When an immigrant is naturalized, the ceremony is akin to an adoption. We henceforth treat him as though he were born in this country, again, regardless of race.

Thus, citizenship is the best way to undermine, not promote, racism. If you’re an American, it doesn’t matter what color skin you have, but how much you love this country and the Constitution.

Let us take courage from the example of Abraham Lincoln. The supporters of slavery accused him of threatening the union by his insisting that slavery is unjust because of its basis on the claim that might makes right.

So, too, those who reject the legitimacy of citizenship and besmirch it with the label of racist replace what is right by nature with the right of the might by which someone may force his way into my house and demand that I treat him as a member of my family.

Lincoln defended his position with this exhortation: “Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Clifford Humphrey is originally from Warm Springs, Georgia. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in politics at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @cphumphrey.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the Director of Admissions for Thales College. He holds a PhD in politics from Hillsdale College, and he resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.