Words that Mean Something

Before I became a naturalized American, after twenty hard-working years in this country, I was not very enthusiastic about it. I felt that I was losing something of me, something of my Venezuelan being, by becoming a citizen of this country. However, I did it mostly because I didn’t want to risk living here with a permanent resident “alien” card, presumably renewable every ten years, and to make my family and myself “alien” citizens forever. So we went through the process of naturalization that required to fill a long questionnaire, an interview to demonstrate certain knowledge of the US constitution and history, and to show your ability to speak English. After we passed the interview, the immigration authorities set a day for the naturalization ceremony. For my delight, being a baseball fan, the ceremony happened in the Detroit Tigers’ baseball field because one of the Tigers players was also becoming American. It was a Summer day, and we were standing between the third base and home plate, along with a group of about 100 people from multiple nationalities. The judge who lead the ceremony was short and to the point, and in less than 20 minutes we were done and heading to the seats to watch the baseball game as part of the “package” of the entire ceremony.

Along with the naturalization certificate, which looks like a high school diploma with your picture in it, and with the name you choose to use in America (any name you wish), you also receive a short letter signed by the President of the United States of America (yes, I write it in capital initials to make it sound important). I now show the main paragraph of that letter. These words mean something:

“Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles. And every new citizen, by embracing these ideals makes our country more not less American.”

When I read this letter, signed by the US president of that time, I said to myself: these ideals are universal, not just American ideals. It meant that I have lived all my life being American, or better, being a universal citizen. Let us exam the letter in detail:

When he wrote: “everyone belongs” tells me that nobody should feel displaced.
When he wrote: “everyone deserves a chance” tells me that there is room to let every well behaved human being to stay here.
When he wrote: “no insignificant person was ever born” tells me that we all have the right to be heard.
When he wrote: “Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil” tells me that all citizens of the world are Americans as long as they abide to the American (universal) ideals he mentioned.
When he wrote: “We are bound by principles” tells me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what skin color you have, what god you pray to, or what nationality you have. What matter is to follow the ideals and principles he mentioned, and that must suffice to “feel” part of this country.

I read that letter several times in the following weeks after the Tigers’ game, and each time I read it, I felt more and more of a citizen, not just of America, but even more citizen of my dear Venezuela where I learned those ideals, and also a better citizen of this world were we all live.

That letter was written by a Republican president, George W. Bush, but that is irrelevant. I am convinced that any Democrat president would have written something similar. However, the fact that was written by a Republican president is at odds with the current position of the Republican party against the Obama’s executive actions. They are missing the point. As more and more foreigners come to America, the more American this country is. Republicans need to commit to the spirit of the letter I received, where it says “we are bound by principles that lift us above our interests” rather than thinking in the next election cycle, otherwise, a democrat president, likely a woman, will receive the majority of the votes from those naturalized Americans.

C.A. Soto Aguirre©


In my opinion, the solution to the immigration problem is known, but we need politicians to execute it. Before discussing it in more detail, I repeat one line of John Lennon’s song: “Imagine there’s no countries.” Yes, all these problems of immigration, and many other problems that have caused disputes and wars around the world are based on the existence of countries and its boundaries. Only religions may challenge geographic boundaries as the most used reason to attack your neighbor, but religions deserve a whole essay that is not the subject of this writing. Going back to the immigration problem, there is a second point to make: we all are immigrants. There is not a single community that has not migrated. No matter what ethnicity, geographical birthplace, or religion, we as a group of humans on earth have been migrating forever. The proof is simple and obvious: scientist have identified, based on mitochondrial DNA in fosils, that all modern humans came from east-south Africa more than 60,000 years ago, therefore, we have to conclude that we all are immigrants wherever we live today (except for the Africans that remained in that original birthplace). Now, if we put together these to points, having no countries and being all immigrants, why are we so obsessed trying to keep people outside the US? Or outside any country for that matter. In any case, being realistic, we know that in our life time we won’t see boundaries disappear, nor religions disintegrate, nor the sense of ownership of the place where we live vanish from our cultures. This bring us to the the immigration issue in a more realistic and practical way, here or in any place on earth.

First, let’s understand why people migrate. This answer is simple: we migrate because we want a better life for us or our descendants. But in the process of making that decision, we ponder pros and cons, and the decision is taken only if the pros are bigger than the cons. When a person (or a child) from Central America decides to leave his family, to pay a high dollar amount to a coyote, to cross Mexico illegally risking being killed or raped in train wagons, to cross the Rio Grande risking to drawn in the currents, to cross the desert of Arizona risking being bitten by snakes, to become an “illegal” without knowing the language, and finally reach a destination in the US with a 1 in 10 chances to make it, it is because all these obstacles are not yet enough to surmount the prospects of a better life in the US.

A bit of history, in 1948 USA gave $13 billions for the European Recovery Program (a.k.a. the Marshal Plan) after World War II, to help the devastated European countries. Assuming an yearly inflation of 3%, we are talking $90 billions in today’s dollars. Can you imagine if the US government gave such much money to Central American countries to build factories, hospitals, bridges, schools, roads, and everything that is needed to eradicate drug lords? Just for comparison, all central american countries combined have a government national budget of less than $30 billions. Now ask yourself this question, if your country is prosperous, has good schools and universities, good transportation, good hospitals, low crime, and well paid jobs, would you leave your family and country to face all obstacles mentioned above? The answer is a rotund no.

This idea is not new, and not even hard to implement, but requires the will of congressmen and the president. If Europe could recover, so Central and South America. US does not have to pay $90 billions, just a tenth of that would do it, and would be much, much cheaper than building a tall fence along borders, paying billions in order to patrol them, being seen as barbaric people who throw back children to the arms of narco-traffickers. We are better than that, and when I say “we” I mean we humans, not just Americans.

Retaking Lennon’s song: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Ciro A. Soto Aguirre©