Liu at The Atlantic asks the awkward question of why we grant citizenship arbitrarily to all persons born in a state’s territory, and yet require immigrants to display merit to gain similar privileges. Despite vast bureaucratic impracticalities, the moral and political case is clear. Consider the consequences:
Today, public understanding of our past and our system of government is pitifully low: As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has archly observed, far more Americans can name a judge on American Idol than a justice of the Supreme Court. Only a third can name all three branches of government. One simple remedy would be to update the citizenship test now given to naturalizing immigrants – and administer it to everyone. That would boost knowledge in a hurry.
On the allegation that this would be un-American, contrary to liberty:
It is indeed contrary to the currently prevailing ethic of American life — an ethic of market fundamentalism and personal libertarianism. But were any of the founding generation to return today — or if Lincoln or the authors of the 14th Amendment were among us now — they would ask what had happened to the civic republican tradition of citizenship as a responsibility. For this tradition is as deeply American as raw self-seeking.