Monday, February 7, 2011


Emerging Minds Project
January 2011

The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of 11 students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Response to the article "Birthright Citizenship Looms as Next Immigration Battle" by Marc Lacey
(Published: January 4, 2011)

“Reframing the Immigration Debate”
By: Tyler Lutz

Of all the words I could have chosen to stand alone and unadorned at the beginning of this piece, I have no doubt that 'immigration' is among the most awkward-looking; the word itself, envious perhaps of the action which it denotes, evinces a sort of movement-- it's inherently referential, begging for an end point, a telos. Immigration reform. Immigration debate. (the) Immigration problem. Immigrant rights. Immigrant–  I think you can fill in the blanks from here.

And its lexical shift from an objective, tangible noun to an ethereal and innately biased adjective, a qualifier doesn't go unnoticed. The debate, the problem, the attempts at reform, almost everything surrounding 'immigration' (used here in its rare but extant noun form) inevitably elicit passionate emotional responses, evoking and challenging many of the most profound of our 'self evident' truths.

How far has this shift gone? If someone tells you today they don't have an opinion on immigration, that they prefer to think of it in concrete terms as an objective phenomenon, they're probably either lying through their teeth or suffering from a particularly acute case of political apathy. Could I ever be forgiven then for purporting to make that very sort of unbiased analysis the object of this present piece? Probably not. But that won't stop me from trying.

I'll start with something that might astonish you at first; even if I were to tell you about what I really think about immigration, I am willing to bet that it is very nearly identical to what you think, and that any real differences in our opinions are merely in the details.

You will probably agree, for instance, with most people (myself included) that any effective country needs to somehow establish realistic bounds on the influx of immigrants, both for reasons of maintaining stability and perhaps also on grounds of fairness to the current residents. But you most likely also acknowledge the inevitability of some form of immigration. I don't really care how you arrived at this point – maybe you are idealistic and want to see as many people as possible have a shot at the American Dream; you could be historically oriented and look forward to the economic and cultural contributions that immigrants bring; or perhaps you're just a realist and have come to terms with the fact that truly water-tight borders could never really exist, and besides that the fact that America has plenty of room to expand anyway, just not too quickly – but in any case here you are, embracing immigration in theory but with an 'only in moderation' tag firmly attached to it somewhere.

You might now look at this and determine that any real differences in opinion – and hence the heart of the immigration debate – must hinge on such innocuous quantitative questions as 'how quickly is too quickly?' or 'where exactly resides the happy medium?' And superficially at least, this would be a fitting assessment; conflicting self interests cause the net impact of these two otherwise center-seeking forces to diverge. On one hand, American citizens (correctly) refer to the short-term social and structural upheavals that immigration causes, while immigrants on the other hand (also correctly) contend that they don't want to be denied the opportunity here when no one really suffers as a consequence, particularly in the long term.

That's it then, right? There's only one question at work here, namely 'whose interests and what time scales matter most?'
It's an unsettling way to phrase the issue. Bad politics. We seem to know instinctively that the instant in which political discourse strays into questions of protecting those personal interests over these, mine over yours, something has gone horribly awry. And indeed something has.

We've lost sight of America in our analysis. America shouldn't be a mediator between our private interests – indeed, it should be all but blind to these. As an American, I don't think my country should, or perhaps even ever could recognize the full extent of my personality and interests. To the eyes of my country, I am nothing more than a shell containing a precious kernel of human life, but otherwise wholly empty. Everything else –  my dreams, my experiences, my preferences, my paradigms – are as wisps of smoke only loosely associated with my body.

And I wouldn't have it otherwise. There's a sort of trade-off here; I submit to being a mere variable, a number as a citizen because I acknowledge that a just state can never be driven by self-interest. In exchange, the state protects that kernel of life within me and the basic rights it entails. Of course, that doesn't stop me from living to the fullest possible extent of my humanity, but only in the distinctly non-political spheres of my life.

Here then is the source of the real rift generating the tremors of the immigration debate: how much humanity are we willing to sacrifice in order to foster a healthy, sustainable immigration policy?

Having grown up in California's increasingly immigrant-populated Central Valley, I can admit to a very personal interest in the struggles facing immigrant families. This sympathy, however, is of a fundamentally human, i.e. apolitical nature. It's often difficult, but I have to force myself to recognize that caring on a personal level doesn't necessarily imply that I should care on a political one.

An America with a just and effective immigration policy is more than just a vague, unattainable dream. But to move beyond the suffering and disillusionment caused by our current state of affairs, we are going to have to step out of our skin and ask the cold, rational  question of how best to pursue justice and efficacy over the long term.

The more we let ideas of suffering – be it ours or theirs – contaminate our approach to improving the situation, the more this suffering will be an ever-present reality.

Tyler Lutz is confused; he is currently pursuing a double major in physics and English, and he likes to think he can speak French. Tyler transferred to Chicago from UC Berkeley, which is near his home town, but yet his geographic allegiance is to Germany, where he spent a year as an exchange student. Tyler doesn’t know how to spell his favorite pastime- was it ‘write’ (for the Maroon, TTH, short fiction, South Side Scribblers) or ‘ride’ (bike)? If you can discern any underlying pattern in all of this, Tyler asks that you kindly refrain from telling him, as he is quite happy in his state of bewilderment.

"What it Means to be a Citizen”
By: Ryota Sekine

What intrigued me in the New York Times article on birthright citizenship was the statement made by a Tea Party spokesman on how becoming an American citizen entails more than “walking across the border” (Lacey, 2011). This, I believe, raises the fundamental question of national identity and more importantly, the basis on which we collectively fall prey to systematic prejudice. I would like to address these ideas based on points raised by Tania, our guest speaker, and my personal anecdote as an individual without a true “home”.

Though this idea of “attained citizenship” may seem unconstitutional from an American standpoint that considers freedom and equality as inalienable rights, I question whether or not citizenship should be taken for granted – in other words, if there should be an active commitment required either to become or stay a citizen. Please let me address this from my own experience. Born and raised in Singapore most of my life, I feel very attached to the nation, more so than Japan, my country of citizenship. My close Singaporean friends often ask me why I do not have a permanent residence in Singapore. Part of the reason is my parents’ objection to the idea of my serving the National Army (a compulsory two-year military training for male citizens and PRs) because of my ties with Japan, a country that has renounced its armed forces. In spite of the life-long connections I have with Singapore, I cannot help but to realize how “un-Singaporean” I am. I often have a difficult time relating to my Singaporean seniors, who have undergone the military experience. To this day, I have a hard time confidently being able to assert my identity as a true Japanese citizen, yet I feel disconnected from my place of birth.

This brings us back to the question of how the United States defines its citizenship status. I am certain there must be ways in which America instills a sense of national cohesion and responsibility amongst its citizens. This ought to be true, for it would not make sense for the government to deny citizenship to those, like Tania, who have been living the American life just as any other American citizen. I have yet to decipher what this unifying force is that makes “documented” residents fundamentally different from their “undocumented” counterparts from the perspective of the government. The US does not have a military training program that mandates citizens to serve and unite. Religion and race are also unlikely factors, for the nation now boasts unprecedented ethnic and religious diversity.

After all, can systematic prejudice seen in immigration rights simply be reduced to the level of laws, regulations and legal documents? Though I see some validity in the Tea Party statement, particularly with the need for a national spirit in defining the notion of citizenship, independent of birthright, I personally feel that America does not seem to make this collective effervescence apparent, if there is any. What does it take to be or become an American citizen? As a foreign student in the United States, I feel that addressing this question would help me not only in my understanding of systematic prejudice as a whole but also coming to terms with my own national identity.

Ryota Sekine is a second-year in the College studying biological sciences with specialization in immunology. On campus, he is involved in the Japanese Students’ Association, a cancer research lab, and the AIDS Awareness group. Originally from Japan, he was born in Singapore and studied at the United World College there. His interest lies in the vicinity of research, global health and international relations.