Tag: Constitutional amendments

Big Talk

When I was a kid, my mom volunteered to get the ERA passed. She was disappointed (actually, quite pissed) when the Equal Rights Amendment ran out of gas near the finish line.

The ERA was fairly popular, but it couldn’t get past the high hurdle that proposed Constitutional amendments face: Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must pass it, and then three-fourths of the states have to approve it. There’s an alternative method of approving amendments that involves a Constitutional convention, but that route is less common.

In recent months, we’ve heard that another change to the Constitution is imminent. Yes, conservatives have their hearts set on revoking Amendment 14. This pesky amendment, among other things, establishes that people born in the United States are full citizens.

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Bonus Points If You Can Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” In Its Proper Key

First, thanks to Gigi for her passionate comment on my post “Dogma Vs. Cheese.”

Second, let me return to the subject of my previous post, in which I advocated for amending the U.S. Constitution. I argued that being born in America should not be sufficient for citizenship. My idea is that people who want to be citizens should have to pass a test, just like naturalized immigrants do. One’s birthplace or family history would have nothing to do with it.

The piece was also published on the Huffington Post. There, I received dozens of comments, ranging from the thoughtful to the shrill. Joining the fray were conservatives who thought I was joking and liberals who said I supported literacy tests for voting. Because I pissed off individuals across the political spectrum, I figure that I must be on to something.

As an addendum to that post, let me point out that the U.S. government has recently reformatted the citizenship test. Now it’s less of a hodgepodge of rote and trivial questions, such as “How many stars are on the flag?”

There’s more of an emphasis on content, with questions like “What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?” In essence, you have to think a little more now.

It’s impossible to know how effective the test is unless one actually takes it. And nobody is going to devote the time, money, and stress to do that unless they absolutely have to. But there are a number of online study guides that give us a taste of what immigrants have to master.

For example, here’s the government’s official guidance on becoming an American.

Sadly, it doesn’t include tips on maintaining a hostile relationship with your next-door neighbor, or which flatscreen television you should buy that you can’t possibly afford. Clearly, there are some all-American concepts that immigrants will just have to learn on their own.

But my main argument stands: Immigrants have to learn about our country and prove their worthiness to stay, so we native-born citizens should have to as well.

In any case, if you’re so smart and bursting with patriotic vigor, let’s see how you would do on the new citizenship exam. Here’s a sample of the test.

Give it a shot, and try to imagine that your entire future rests on how well you perform on this exam.

You don’t have to tell me your score. 

Start Cramming Now

First, let me thank Evenshine for his/her thoughtful reply to my post “Dogma Vs. Cheese.” 

Second, let me give thanks in general that this election season is almost over.

One of the odder moments in this incessant campaign was when John McCain’s status as a real American became a question. I don’t mean that anyone doubted his patriotism or citizenship or anything like that. I’m referring to the skepticism expressed over whether his birthplace (a military base in the Panama Canal zone) fulfills the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the president be a “natural-born citizen.”

It would indeed be a soul-crusher for Republicans if the guy pulls an upset in November, only to be ruled ineligible come Inauguration Day. Either scenario, by the way, is highly unlikely.

In any case, conservatives want to change the Constitution (that non-living document) by adding the “Schwarzenegger amendment,” so that any naturalized citizen can become president. But while they’re at it, they also want to amend the Constitution so that being born in America is not sufficient for citizenship.

The thinking here is that too many pregnant Hispanic women are dragging their huge bellies across the border, just so they can spit out a little nino or nina on U.S. soil. Doing so, of course, ensures American citizenship for their offspring.

I happen to agree with these proposed changes, especially amending the Constitution so that people born in America are not automatically made U.S. citizens. In fact, my compliant with this proposal is not that it is unfair or radical, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

So if we’re going to do this, let’s do it correctly:

Amend the Constitution so that no one can become a citizen until he/she passes a basic test. I mean nobody gets citizenship by virtue of where they’re born or their parents’ status. Everybody has to earn it.

This is where most conservatives pull back. They just want Diego and Maria denied rights because their parents don’t speak English. They certainly aren’t talking about limiting the status of their own ninth-generation offspring.

It’s not just selfishness. We have this mindset that people whose roots go back farther are better Americans. But individuals whose ancestors fought at Valley Forge are not inherently more patriotic than immigrants. In fact, I would argue that people who spend time, money, and effort to study our culture – then prove they know what they’re talking about – are more committed to, and knowledgeable about our nation than the millions of Americans who slept though high school history.

To be fair, I have a bias. Several members of my family have had to pass the test. I was born here, so I didn’t have to put myself on the line. But my mother, aunt, and several cousins have had to step up and say, “Hell yeah, I had to work for this.” And don’t we always appreciate things that we have earned more than gifts that are just handed to us?

And what’s so intimidating about a basic test, anyway? I’m not talking about forcing people to answer questions like “Explain U.S. monetary policy on a macroeconomic level.” The citizenship test, as I understand it, asks people things like “Why do some states have more representatives in Congress?” I find it difficult to believe that this is a harmful thing for citizens to know.

If we had informed citizens – people who really strived to be active members of this country – maybe America wouldn’t elect leaders based on how cute they are or, Lord help us, whether the majority wanted to have an imaginary beer with them.

An objection to this idea is the status of children. Are we to educate every child with the knowledge that come adulthood, many of them will be, at best, legal residents and never become citizens? Well, that’s hardly scary, because we do that now. Furthermore, I would argue for the intrinsic benefit of putting all kids on an even playing field – one where every child is a future potential president –rather than subdividing children into “natural-born citizens” and interlopers.

So what are the objections to this idea? Are they based on the principles of fairness and history, on the norms of our culture? Or perhaps we react negatively because of fear, the itchy suspicion that many of us have no idea what all those stars and stripes on the flag actually symbolize.

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