The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze Bharati Mukherjee's essay, "Two Ways to Belong in America." Specifically, it will discuss the position that immigrants who legally come to this country should become citizens of this country, because they have enjoyed all the benefits the country has to offer, and they should be loyal to the country that has given them success and a new life. Immigrants who come to this country to live and work as legal immigrants certainly are not bound to become American citizens. However, as author Mukherjee notes in her essay, many immigrants are grateful to the country that has given them so much, and so, they do not want to take it for granted, or turn their back on it. Immigrants who do not become citizens have a place in American society, but if that is their choice, then they should only be allowed to stay here a certain amount of time, and then go home, where their real allegiance clearly lies.
Mukherjee's essay is the story of she and her sister, and the different choices they have made about citizenship in America today. Her sister is an expatriate who has lived in America for over thirty years, but plans to return to India, her native country, when she retires. She does not feel any real affection for America, and feels her real roots are at home. However, the author feels totally the opposite, and feels that America has given her many opportunities, and her home is now here in this country. She became a citizen, and can vote, and live here forever, just like any other American citizen. The differences between these two sisters point out the differences between millions of immigrants who come to America every day. Some embrace the culture and fabric of America, and some do not. Some throw themselves into their new lives and take advantage of everything America has to offer, including citizenship, and some do not. Some choose to retain their old ways, not adapting to American culture, and always longing for home. That is understandable. Citizenship is an honor, not a duty, and those who do not want to become citizens should not have to. However, if they do not want to become citizens after a certain amount of time, then they should make way for others who do desire citizenship.
There are many reasons why people immigrate to America. Some, like the author and her sister, come to America for educational opportunities, and end up staying because they marry or find a good job. Others come here because they have specific skills, and find they are more in demand in the U.S., such as the recent influx of Asian professionals who work in the technology and computer industries. Many other immigrants come here because they have little future in their own country, and hope to make a better life for themselves in America. Most of these immigrants have solid job skills, but some do not. Many Americans feel that immigrants should be able to pay for themselves, and not cost the "Recent congressional actions confirm a strong consensus that immigrants (or their sponsors) should at least pay for themselves" (Schuck 340). The immigrants who subsist on social welfare systems, and do not become citizens of the country should not be allowed to stay in the country. They are using the many benefits of the country, but are literally giving little or nothing in return. Immigrants who take advantage of the country, but are not loyal to the country can be dangerous, and at worst, they are simply using the system to their own advantage. Citizenship is certainly a choice, but when the choice is not made, and the benefit is small, then the immigrant should not be allowed to stay in the country, and most Americans agree on this aspect of immigration.
There are many problems associated with immigrants who come to America and never obtain citizenship, or file for dual citizenship. Ultimately, their loyalty to the country, especially in times of stress, comes into question. One author notes dual citizenship "epitomizes the problem by diluting the dual citizen's commitment to American society and creating divided loyalties" (Schuck 162). After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans feared all immigrants. This is simply a result of fear and misunderstanding. Not all immigrants are enemies of the country, but it is understandable that immigrants who have lived in the U.S. For many years, and never acquired citizenship might be suspect over immigrants who have become citizens. Immigrants who become citizens have to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States. Of course, this does not ensure their absolute loyalty, and they certainly could lie, if they had ulterior motives, but the citizenship process is long and involved, and so it seems that the immigrants who go to the trouble of becoming citizens are certainly more motivated and interested in the country than those who do not.
There are numerous benefits associated with citizenship that immigrants who become citizens enjoy, too. First, citizens can vote in elections, and immigrants who want to truly be part of the American democratic process will become citizens so they can vote. In addition, if immigration laws suddenly change, then it is possible that some immigrants in the U.S. might no longer be allowed to stay here. Citizens do not have to face these worries about deportation. An immigration lawyer notes, "Permanent residents are always at risk of losing their green cards if they spend long periods of time outside the U.S. Since 9/11, this has become a more serious problem and more and more people are losing their residency status because they are deemed by port of entry officers as having abandoned their permanent residency in the U.S." (Susser). In addition, certain public benefits are not available to immigrants, and there may be more restrictions place on many benefits as more immigrants come to the country and use a variety of social systems for their benefit. If the immigrant wants family members to enter and remain in the U.S., then they have a better chance if they are citizens. Lawyer Susser continues, "U.S. citizens receive priority treatment when it comes to bringing in family members. Citizens over 21 years of age can sponsor family members without waiting on a queue for a visa to become available" (Susser). Immigrants cannot hold certain federal jobs, or run for office, but citizens can. In addition, there are some tax advantages to becoming a citizen, especially when it comes to estate taxes, which may be higher for immigrants (Susser). All of these factors are influential to some people who want to become citizens, and should be taken into account when the choice about citizenship is decided.
Many critics believe the biggest problem with immigration and citizenship is not that so many immigrants choose not to become citizens, but that the country actually encourages immigrants not to assimilate. One critic writes, "Nor would it get at a related and even deeper problem, which is not that there are too many immigrants, but that those who apply, and those who come, are not required, or even asked, to assimilate" (Salins). America makes it very easy for people to immigrate here. We have always welcome and encouraged people from other countries to make their home here, and immigration law reforms in the twentieth century encouraged more people to move to America. Immigrants find that their children can be educated in their native languages, and even voting material and McDonald's menus are available in several languages. Immigrants find that they can live in segregated communities of their countrymen, speak their own language for the most part, and still find good jobs and get a good education. These social conveniences do not encourage assimilation or citizenship, and so, many immigrants feel no need to become citizens -- why should they? Their lives are better, but they still live largely as they did at home.
Clearly, not all immigrants feel this way, but the U.S. should begin new immigration policies that encourage those who sincerely want to assimilate to immigrate, and place restrictions on those who do not assimilate in a certain amount of time, perhaps twenty years. Implementing a policy such as this would be difficult, but in the end, the U.S. would benefit in a number of ways. Americans would still be ensured of having a diverse and colorful population base, filled with people from all countries and walks of life. However, these people would be more interested in America and becoming American than many people are today. They would still bring valuable skills and thought to the country, but they would also give back to their country and communities by becoming citizens. Since there are many advantages to becoming a citizen for the immigrant, this should not be seen as a hardship, but a goal, a journey, and a privilege.…