What makes me?

Immigration is always a hot-button topic for politicians, and some seem unable to resist pushing that big, red, shiny button. Almost like they were being (or had been) given rewards on a variable schedule.

Exhibit A: Peters, W.; unable to let an issue pass without adding his two cents. He does raise an interesting theory1, however: is Australia strict on immigrants from New Zealand because NZ is lax on immigrants to NZ? (If you didn’t read the link, he claims immigrants have used NZ as a stepping stone: staying the minimum time to gain citizenship then moving to Australia.)

Even if what he says is true, it doesn’t mean the problem is only on one side. NZ could (and maybe already has) tighten up its immigration policies2. Australia could limit their sanctions (on NZ’ers living in Australia) to only the freshly-minted New Zealanders.

There has been other citizenship-related news recently, too. Several members of the Australian parliament have run into problems due to potentially having dual-citizenship. I can understand the reasoning: a dual-citizen is not fully committed to the country, and so should not be an MP. However, it becomes ludicrous when someone can hold dual citizenship without their knowledge or initiative3.

And, of course, there’s the latest kerfuffle from the US4. *sigh* Is there anyone he hasn’t managed to alienate yet?

All these issues are different facets of a point5 that I’ve been wondering about: What does it mean to be a citizen?

When I was growing up, not being well-informed on political history, I had assumed countries existed because they were originally the homeland of a certain ethnic group, but that owing to people migrating around the world, a lot of countries now had a mixture of ethnicities. In a way, this was further reinforced as countries like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR separated into distinct states, seemingly along ethnic lines.

I did however, find it confusing learning about various long-running conflicts that seemed to involve particular ethnic groups whose “homelands” straddled two or more countries (e.g. the Kurdish people). It was only later I realised the countries were often defined as “the bit claimed by [insert applicable expansionist European empire]”, and so you got locals being told to fight other locals from across the river because they’re being oppressed by the French rather than the British. Yeah. No wonder some parts of the world are messed up.

There is a definite distinction between what the powers-that-be have decided upon, and they way individual people feel. As an extended example, despite the ancient nation of Israel/Judah being ended by the Roman Empire (often symbolised by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in about 70 AD), the strength of Jewish identity passed down through the generations meant that even after nearly 1900 years there was enough impetus to re-establish Israel. Unfortunately, this was plenty of time for Palestine to become established and viewed as an ancestral homeland, hence neither side wanting to cede territory.

People can identify very strongly with “their” country, even though—much like their racial identity—it’s usually obtained through an accident of birth. Unlike race, however, people cannot wake up one morning to find that they are now part of a different country (again, outside of their initiative). But the impression I get is that—at the scale of a country—people are generally more attached to a physical place than a political state (it’s just that the two are often synonymous). We have a sense of “home”; a place that provides security. Some are willing to venture further from home than others, but most would feel a sense of loss if they could never go back.

This attachment can vary depending on the level of patriotism in a country. The United States, being formed of a vast array of different peoples, a lot of them immigrants, has focused on forming a strong bond with the flag and the nation. Children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school. There is a strong implication of “if you do this, you are one of us, and we stand together”. If someone has participated in this, grown up in this environment, maybe never known any other, it is downright cruel to have the authorities essentially say “you are not one of us”. To send people away from the only home they’ve ever known to a place where they may not even speak the language. The world’s seen too much of that crap already.

1 Whether he is correct in his assertions, I don’t know, but the scenario he presented prompted Thoughts™.

2 Maybe not to the level of Australia’s, though? Just saying. Not an expert.

3 When this issue first appeared in the news, a friend of mine joked that we could therefore remove any Australian MP we disliked by granting them NZ citizenship. You might well argue that we would then have to let said former-Aussie-MP into NZ, but our immigration laws do bar criminals, and obtaining a governmental position when unqualified certainly sounds like a crime. Practically treason.
(Please note this entire footnote should not be taken seriously. I’m sure this won’t be too arduous for any of you.)

4 That is, the latest at the time I started writing this. By the time you read it, the Human Vuvuzela will no doubt have moved on to fresh outrages.

5 It can be helpful to step back, to generalise, to look at the common threads in several related situations. The trouble is, working at this more abstract, theoretical level, it’s not obvious how to apply your conclusions to the real world. Assuming you even manage to come to any conclusions.