Liberty in Focus

Understanding and applying the outlook of personal rights and freedom.

Immigration, Naturalization and Natural Rights.

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by Spencer Morgan

With the recent controversy surrounding Arizona’s new bill to enforce Federal immigration laws, and similar legislative efforts in Utah, there is a lot of talk about the presumed “constitutional” duty for the Federal government to be involved in policing the borders of the union.  There is not very much talk, however, about what Constitutional clause or legitimate principle serves as the basis for such power.  State officials and Attorney generals wash their hands of the issue, accepting the unquestioned presumption that this is a federal problem resulting from a failure of a federal duty.  Rather than join the tired partisan debate about the “rule of law” and the need for safeguards to ensure equal enforcement, I’ve taken a very radical approach instead.  I decided to actually look at the Constitution itself, as well as at other writings and legislation of the era, to see what I could find.

The fact is, there is no clause of the Constitution which grants power or specifies any obligation for the federal government to police the borders of the several states for the purposes of preventing entry by non-citizens.  Our Constitution is unique from other historical governments, or at least was intended to be, in the sense that it did not begin with a presumption of any inherent government power.  Rather, in our tradition and under the ideology and understanding of the founders, all inherent power was presumed to reside with the individual by virtue of natural rights.  This means that the Constitution, if it is be be an enactment of written law at all consistent with the vision intended by the legally acting parties upon its adoption (the States, in their ratifying conventions), should be interpreted as only granting those powers actually identified in the document.

Naturalization vs. Immigration

Naturalization and immigration are two very different things.  Naturalization is the process by which a resident becomes a citizen entitled to the benefits of participation in the body politic.  Immigration is the simple movement of people.  The founders were not operating on the presumption (that is relatively new in our history) that all rights of free movement, trade, employment etc. were dependent on citizenship or naturalized status.  The Constitution did grant Congress the power to write rules for naturalization (citizenship) but it was in no way presumed that the grant of that status was to be viewed as a prerequisite for the use of natural, creator-endowed rights such as the right to form contracts, sell one’s labor for a price, or own property. That is why the 1790 Congress wrote the Naturalization Act (enacted by many of the founders and signed into law by Washington and Adams) which required that candidates for naturalization affirm their residency in the states for at least 2 years prior.  Why would they make the admission of a criminal act or fugitive status a prerequisite for a grant of citizenship?  They didn’t, because they didn’t view mere existence within the borders as a non-citizen to be a “criminal” act.  They knew foreign residents were here and coming in large numbers (a condition which contributed to a near doubling in population during the 11 years after the revolution) and wanted to be able to naturalize them efficiently.  In fact, one of the grievances cited by the colonists in the Declaration of Independence was the King’s efforts to obstruct the speedy naturalization processes that the colonies had set up under their legislatures.

Natural Rights vs. Privileges of Citizenship

It is entirely proper, of course, for government bodies to be determining based on the will and consent of their constituents (citizens) the process and criteria by which to bring new citizens into body politic.  The confusion pervading the modern debate about illegal immigration, however, stems from a misunderstanding of what “rights” a government grants to us and what “rights” it does not and therefore is not free to take away.  Natural Rights are those fundamental entitlements inherent to our condition of humanity, and evident by fact of our creation.  In the Declaration of Independence we read the following clause;

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Because these rights are viewed as inherent to the human condition and granted by a creative entity or process, they are not something which can rightfully be denied by government or made subject to a condition of citizenship.  Citizenship status can only be a prerequisite for the use of those privileges which actually depend on the existence of the state for their existence, such as the right to vote or the right to use court and government processes to sue for relief as a complaining party.  The mindset that mere human existence or the exercise of rights inherent thereto can be decreed to be “criminal” by a statute is fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of liberty itself.


Written by Spencer Morgan

March 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Posted in History, Philosophy

One Response

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  1. How often are Naturalization ceremonies conducted and where are they held?


    July 2, 2011 at 8:50 am

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