Alienated: Immigrant Rights, the Constitution, and Equality in America

Alienated: Immigrant Rights, the Constitution, and Equality in America

Alienated: Immigrant Rights, the Constitution, and Equality in America

Alienated: Immigrant Rights, the Constitution, and Equality in America

Synopsis

Throughout American history, the government has used U.S. citizenship and immigration law to protect privileged groups from less privileged ones, using citizenship as a "legitimate" proxy for otherwise invidious, and often unconstitutional, discrimination on the basis of race. While racial discrimination is rarely legally acceptable today, profiling on the basis of citizenship is still largely unchecked, and has in fact arguably increased in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States. In this thoughtful examination of the intersection between American immigration and constitutional law, Victor C. Romero draws our attention to a "constitutional immigration law paradox" that reserves certain rights for U.S. citizens only, while simultaneously purporting to treat all people fairly under constitutional law regardless of citizenship.

As a naturalized Filipino American, Romero brings an outsider's perspective to Alienated, forcing us to look at constitutional immigration law from the vantage point of people whose citizenship status is murky (either legally or from the viewpoint of other citizens and lawmakers), including foreign-born adoptees, undocumented immigrants, tourists, foreign students, and same-gender bi-national partners. Romero endorses an equality-based reading of the Constitution and advocates a new theoretical and practical approach that protects the individual rights of non-citizens without sacrificing their personhood.

Excerpt

I study the intersection of American immigration and constitutional law, two fields that, by themselves, create enough problems for the average seeker, but when combined in the growing field of “constitutional immigration law” raise particularly perplexing issues. Put simply, immigration law divides people into citizens of the United States and others, between those who can claim legal status as full members of this republic, and those who cannot. While the Constitution recognizes this distinction, it simultaneously aspires to provide due process and equal protection of the laws to all persons, regardless of citizenship. So here is the dilemma: to what extent should the Constitution protect noncitizens—immigrants, undocumented persons, tourists, foreign students—in the United States?

Living in multicultural America, our children learn early on to appreciate differences. My kids, ages three and five, have a favorite video of children's songs that they do not seem to tire of watching. One of the songs is entitled, “We Are All Alike,” and opens this way: “Like each flake of snow falling from the sky, we are all unique, we are all alike. Take a look around, you will see it's true: you're a lot like me, I'm a lot like you.” As a Filipino immigrant married to a Caucasian U.S.-born wife living in rural Pennsylvania, I like this song quite a bit. It teaches my children that even though they might look different from most of their friends, they really are very much the same: everyone has skin and eyes, the song continues, even though they may be of different shades and . . .

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