On Native-Born Ingrates

POLITICS & POLICY
American flag and Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, D.C., in 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

I appreciate Charlie’s response to my argument that immigrant citizens don’t owe a special debt of gratitude of to this nation — a debt over and above the gratitude that native-born citizens should feel for their home country. To be crystal clear, I believe Ilhan Omar and every citizen immigrant should be grateful for their place in this country. What I reject is the notion that native-born citizens like myself can demand a level of gratitude from immigrants beyond what we demand from native-born citizens.

In fact, to the extent that we should parse gratitude at all, I assert a simple proposition — the people who did exactly nothing to become citizens of the greatest nation in the history of the earth should be among the most grateful people on this planet. We should be grateful to God that we weren’t born elsewhere. We should be grateful to those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” to defend our nation and our Constitution. We should be grateful for those who endure great hardship to defend our liberty, safety, and prosperity.

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Against the backdrop of this immense American gift, native-born Americans by the countless millions don’t trouble themselves to be educated enough about their own country to pass the basic citizenship test that we give to prospective citizen immigrants. All too many native-born citizens forsake the moral obligations of citizenship and instead focus only on reaping its considerable legal and constitutional benefits.

In radical sectors of American life, native-born Americans sometimes even casually adopt ideologies that are so dangerous to our way of life that immigrants can’t be naturalized if they hold those views. And who do we think so often radicalizes young immigrants like Ilhan Omar? Quite often its native-born Americans, people who scorn the blessing of their extraordinary liberty and opportunity and sometimes even loathe their own country.

It’s not lionizing immigrants (Charlie’s characterization of my argument) to state a simple fact — they’ve done more to become citizens than I have. Charlie, for example, left his home and family, built an impressive professional life here in the United States, passed his citizenship test with flying colors and swore an oath most Americans haven’t sworn. The only thing he hasn’t done is learn American English (have you heard him pronounce the word “garage”?), but he’s working on it.

The fact that Charlie worked to become an American doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be grateful. Of course he should! But somewhat-earned privilege is different from unearned privilege, and I think it’s worth acknowledging that reality. In fact, many (most!) citizen-immigrants look back on their journey to citizenship with justifiable fierce pride. Can I take pride in my birth? I don’t think so.

Nothing I’ve said excuses anything that Ilhan Omar has said or believes. Many of her views are repugnant. But they’re not especially repugnant because she’s an immigrant. And we should not hold immigrants to a higher standard of gratitude than we apply to the people who did nothing to earn their place in this land.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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