Citizenship is a right not a privilege. To think of citizenship as a privilege is to think of human freedom and human rights as privileges and not rights. This is similar to the thinking of slave traders, who believed freedom was a privilege and not the right of all human beings. Most governments today think this way. Lets think about some of the problems in this world as a result of this type of thinking:
1) When citizenship becomes a privilege, then the right to vote becomes a privilege. This means excluding some people from the democratic process. These people are usually minorities and victims of racism to begin with, and by not having a voice and not being part of a political constituency they are even more easily abused by the ‘superior class’ who call themselves citizens. For instance, a Mexican ‘below minimum wage’ worker may have lived in the United States for more than twenty years but still has no rights, based on the exploitative label of being an ‘illegal alien’.
2) Countries that treat citizenship as a privilege like the United States, Canada and Australia will give citizenship based on birth but not to others who may have been living in those countries for decades. In a sense this is like racism, where one is considered to be a member of a certain ‘race’ by the circumstance of birth, not an earned distinction. This actually contradicts the thinking that ‘citizenship should be earned’, because birthrights are not earned. There is also a hypocrisy here; the majority of people in United States, Canada, and Australia did not have to earn their citizenship but neither did their ancestors. Even though the land was obtained by using violence against the aboriginals, the European settlers did not have to go through any selective and competitive immigration system. This selective and competitive immigration system was created only after these countries became established majority ethnically European countries that allowed ‘visible minorities’ to immigrate. Thus, these hoops and loops were created to ‘keep out the undesirables’, mostly ‘people of colour’ who are the bulk of immigrants that these countries receive currently. In other words, immigration is tightly controlled because it is no longer ‘white immigration’. So it is amply clear that, treating Citizenship as a privilege awarded to some by governments based on the ever-changing arbitrary criteria such as ‘skilled worker category’, is basically a remnant of a racist past, and a more sophisticated way of promoting racism.
3) When citizenship is no longer a right, countries no longer have to accept refugees, people fleeing from hunger, war, famine and other unfortunate circumstances. These people are often denied entry, at other times they are forced to live on the border in refugee camps for decades while having no rights of a citizen. Centuries ago, such people would have been absorbed into the local population but now because of immigration laws they are nothing more than a population of slaves living within a country in inhuman conditions and their rights not recognized, all under the notion that citizenship is not an automatic right. What is more baffling is that sometimes the country of origin will not accept them after many decades, thus making these people not citizens of any country at all. The government’s implication here is that since these people do not have citizenship they are not legally allowed to exist. This is the most fundamental violation of human rights, the assertion that a human being may be unworthy of living because it would be illegal for them to live anywhere.
4) Migrant workers are abused and exploited because they do not have citizenship. For instance, thousands of migrant workers come to Canada to work on farms. But, they can not form unions like regular Canadian workers. Sometimes they are abused by their employers, but are afraid to speak up because they may lose their jobs, following which they will be deported. Many people in many countries have to constantly live in fear of deportation or not being allowed to come back into the country, even after living in the host country for decades. In addition, they face restrictions on gaining a social security number, access to healthcare, prohibition from attending educational institutes, restrictions on movement, driving etc. In effect, lack of citizenship reduces these people to living the lives of slaves.
Governments of countries like the United States, Canada and other European countries love to lecture ‘third world countries’ on human rights, but what about their own violation of human rights. For instance, recently the Canadian government lectured Iran on human rights. While criticism of human rights in middle eastern countries is fair, this is often done with the intention of vilification rather than genuine concern. In this case, one should also consider the fact that Iran has more refugees living within its borders than any other country in the world. Iran is tag teamed on both sides by wars waged by the United States and Canada in Afghanistan. Yet while Iran takes refuges from both sides, how many Afghan refugees has Canada taken in? The answer is a miniscule number. So much for lecturing others on human rights. But we understand why countries like United States and Canada feel an obligation to lecture others. This is not about moral responsibility most of the time. Mostly it is that old European bias, the ‘white man’s burden’ way of thinking. The thinking that says, ”we people of European origin, with our superior culture and values, are in charge of the world, and must educate and civilize the savages of inferior Asiatic origin”.