Everyone can’t have it- The Depreciation of American Citizenship

Reading Judith Shklar’s comprehensive and difficult essay on American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, she serves the readers a blatant denouncement of what was originally believed to be this ideal form of inclusion and citizenship in America. “The call for a classical participatory democracy may, therefore, be far from democratic, because it does not correspond to the aspirations of most Americans now and has never done so in the past” (Shklar 30), well, she’s right. Blacks, women, males who didn’t own property, freed slaves even, have all been denied this constitutional right.  But the question arises, is it not having the simple privilege to vote or the lack of actually contributing to political decisions by not being able to vote the problem here? The dilemma involves the right vs. the action. Seeing as that one single decision: granting someone the ability to vote defines citizenship, I believe to become actual good citizens is to contribute to the prosperity of this country. America is a microcosm of all different kinds of people.

Being included in this convoluted idea of citizenship stems from a value system of how much being an American is appreciated. Like the title of the post suggests, not everyone can have something because then everyone would possess it. How can this be of any valuable worth? Shklar writes, “the tension between an acknowledged ideology of equal political rights and a deep and common desire to exclude and reject large groups of human beings from citizenship has marked every stage of the history of American democracy” (Shklar 28). This problem continues today with the ongoing debate over illegal immigration especially with new legislation passed like the Arizona Immigration Law last year. There are millions of illegal immigrants benefitting from the fruits and labors of this country. Is the state of Arizona justified in demanding documents from illegal aliens merely on suspicion and detaining them for failing to do so? Judith Shklar, with this quote, would argue, “The excluded were not merely deprived of casual political privileges, they were being betrayed and humiliated by their fellow citizens” (Shklar 38). Even though she is talking about voting privileges here, it can be used to support the claim that Hispanics are being dehumanized and humilated by having to “legitimize their presence on American soil.”


Our country was built upon the mass influx of immigrants in the early 20th century. America is a melting pot, and the immigrants who disembarked to come to this country and stepped off the ship for a better life, attained a better life through hard work.  And now, a witch hunt is being undertaken. Illegal immigrants are merely beneficiaries of the system. They do not pay taxes and they are employed in menial labor jobs that many unemployed legal American citizens could have. There is a price to American Citizenship and I do not want to see it devalued by the nonsensical view that illegal immigrants can come to this country and expect a free ride.

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8 Responses to Everyone can’t have it- The Depreciation of American Citizenship

  1. flitvak says:

    I am in 100% agreement on this issue. While Judith N. Skhlar’s essay is quite complicated and passionate, Shklar has a tendency to rant and fails to convey her point in the most credible manner. While her denouncement of participatory democracy is understandable (we have seen it before with Tocqueville’s tyranny of the majority) as is her anger towards the denial of suffrage to Blacks, women and men who didn’t own property, it seems completely irrelevant to enfranchisement issues today.

    If Shklar’s purpose is to point out similar issues today, I too, beg to differ. Andycraft’s blog post poses the question “is it not having the simple privilege to vote or the lack of actually contributing to political decisions by not being able to vote the problem here? When looking at the enfranchisement of Blacks, women and property-less men, it is a matter of rights. However with current citizenship issues today it seems to be a question of contributing to political decisions.

    As ludicrous as it sounds, there is a value to the citizenship in this country that makes it so desirable. Citizenship should be achieved when a person contributes to society and to the country (militarily, economically, etc.) A concept like this seems outdated but when you are contributing to society in this way it implies a vested economic and military interest that gives people the knowledge to act politically in a rational way.

    When we look at illegal immigration it pains me to think of giving citizenship rights when I think of how they are merely “beneficiaries of the system. They do not pay taxes and they are employed in menial labor jobs that many unemployed legal American citizens could have.” It is in a sense, a free ride and reflects a lack of knowledge on their behalf when it comes to the American political system and American needs. Why would we consider granting these rights if there is this unknowingness?

  2. Amanda Gayer says:

    I do not feel that Shklar’s argument about voting rights can be applied to the case of illegal immigrants. I think that Shklar wants all US citizens to have the same rights, especially voting rights. She makes the point that if a group of people live on US soil and do not have voting rights, they are essentially slaves. They are stuck living in a society that does not take into account their opinions and their needs. But, our nation does not have this problem. The US has nearly universal suffrage – all citizens over 18 years of age have the right to vote.

    Granted, these rights do not apply to illegal immigrants. I agree with the above comment – this exclusion is perfectly reasonable. In fact, it is necessary. In the world we live in, there are national borders and citizenship is a privilege that must be earned. The benefits of citizenship, like voting, come with a great number of responsibilities, like paying taxes to support the nation. On top of the fact that they have already broken the law simply by entering the country, illegal immigrants do not pay taxes or have any other civic responsibilities. Thus, they do not deserve the right to vote.

    In fact, granting any illegal aliens voting rights would lessen the value of US citizenship. There are many people who have undergone the long process of legally immigrating to the US. These people have worked hard for years to become citizens. It would be unfair to give illegal immigrants the same privileges as people who have dedicated years of effort to becoming citizens.

    Shklaar is clearly intelligent, despite her discursive writing. Her ideas on voting rights are valuable, but i feel that today, they are obsolete. Women, blacks, and other minority groups already have the right to vote. Applying this privilege to illegal immigrants would be taking her argument way too far.

  3. Robert Tepper says:

    This is a fantastic post — I completely agree with your view on illegal immigration and citizenship. Becoming a citizen, and thus having all the appropriate rights and privileges that go along with it, is something that should not be taken lightly. You mentioned in the post that certain people in this country’s history, such as blacks, women, men without property, and even freed slaves, were denied the right to vote. At the time this was widely accepted, but we see now how awful this really was because they were denied the right to vote solely based on gender, skin color, and social status. While these are all heinous reasons to deny someone the right to vote, I also believe it was a terrible thing because all of these people earned that right. Blacks, women, and men without property all lived in the United States and deserved every right offered. However, illegal immigrants haven’t earned their rights, and in many ways, as you stated, they are here on a “free ride.” That is not to say that they don’t deserve the right to vote at all. However, if they want the right to vote, they must earn it. That means becoming a naturalized citizen, paying taxes, and making all the same contributions to this country and to the government that all citizens make.

  4. allenle2011 says:

    I also align with your views on illegal immigration. Being a citizen of this nation is a privilege. It is unfortunate that we have illegal immigrants “free riding” off of a system that citizens have paid into for their entire lives. I believe that the Arizona Immigration Law is unfortunate because it is humiliating, and it leads to judging people based on stereotypes. However, I think something does need to be done to tighten down on our immigration problem. If these people want the high standing of being a citizen of the United States, they have to go about it in the proper way. It can be argued that a US passport is the most coveted passport in the entire world, but if we give these illegals citizenship too easily we will devalue the high value of American citizenship.

  5. jlpach says:

    Although I agree with the previous comments about the issue of illegal immigration and the value of citizenship, I want to further delve into the question of how well Shklar’s argument about citizenship applies today. Referring back to a quote AndyKraft mentions, Shklar writes, “The tension between an acknowledged ideology of equal political rights and a deep common desire to exclude and reject large groups of human beings from citizenship has marked every stage of the history of American democracy” (28). Yes, historically, exclusion has seemingly added value to citizenship; yet, thinking about illegal immigrants today, I believe Shklar’s argument applies. There is a problem when too many undocumented people enter the country; however, to solve the problem of free-riding while still adding value to American citizenship is to ultimately develop ways of inclusion of these illegal immigrants. In California, there is a new law allowing top illegal immigrant students to receive state funds to attend college as long as they are on the path to receiving American citizenship.


    I think that if illegal immigrants are in today’s American society, it is still important for our government to take into account their opinions and needs. According to the article, Californian Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo states, “Today, Ana and Maria Gomez, Jaime Kim, David Cho, Pedro Ramirez — and thousands of other students who are some of the best and brightest in California — have been told by our governor and legislative leaders that you are welcome here, that you have something to contribute, that you can be proud of what you have accomplished and that your talents and ambition will not go to waste.” Although these students are undocumented residents of the U.S., they still can contribute to the overall positive progression of American society. Just as women, African Americans, males who were not property owners, etc. contributed to our society but were in the past denied the benefits of being considered an American citizen, so are illegal immigrants contributing to society today. I am not promoting the fact that individuals should enter our country illegally, but rather address the issue of the current residency of illegal immigrants. I think California is on the right track in providing incentives for illegal immigrants to pursue becoming legal citizens. This inclusion still adds value to American citizenship, but also solves the problem of the potential free-riding of undocumented residents.

  6. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I completely agree with this post, and feel that you made an excellent argument against illegal immigrants supported by Shklar’s argument as support. Growing up in San Diego, the Mexican border is no more than a 30-minute drive down south. The city’s close proximity to the border makes it a “hot-spot” for immigrants.

    These immigrants have brought their own culture to San Diego, which can be seen by the hundreds of taco shops that exist on every corner, the multiple Spanish stations and commercials that are on the radio, and the constant sounds of people speaking Spanish around you. Additionally, along with their culture these immigrants have brought a whole new labor force.

    Pardon me from coming off as racists, but almost every household I know has someone from Mexico working for them in some form. I personally only had Hispanic nannies or housekeepers my entire childhood. These immigrants successfully fill the working force of San Diego’s society. For that reason I view them as a valuable member of our society, however, I only value those that are legal immigrants.

    While there are those immigrants that legally live in San Diego, there are just as many if not more that are illegal aliens. As you mentioned these illegal immigrants reap the benefits of being an American citizen without contributing. Yes, they do contribute to the workforce by taking jobs that one could argue Americans wouldn’t take; they are not contributing to the American government-, which is from whom they are receiving their benefits.

    They aren’t paying taxes, since they are paid under the table in cash for their work, nor are they contributing to our governmental system by serving in jury duty. The benefits that come from being an American citizen are wonderful, but we all receive them in exchange for giving back to the society through things like taxes and jury duty.

    I have nothing against people immigrating into America, after all my ancestors did just the same. However, I have something against those who choose to illegally immigrate into our country and then expect to receive the same benefits.

  7. dfox13 says:

    I do agree with Andy in many ways, but I do disagree somewhat with his views on the devaluation of American Citizenship due to illegal immigrants, and I disagree with some prior comments. What many people fail to realize is that these illegal immigrants come into the country and contribute through labor, sales tax, paying rent, buying property, as well as other forms. Yes, many don’t pay income taxes, but the reality is, if they were citizens, many would be severely under the poverty line, meaning they would not pay much income tax, or any at all, instead they would be a financial burden on the government. They would actually be a burden if they were citizens, rather than being illegal and contributing more than they take.

    In tough economic times it is understandable for anti-immigration feelings to be strong, but what many people have to understand is that the United States has been fueled by immigration, and by cutting off what has propelled it to become one of the most powerful nations would be absurd. Many entrepreneurial and consumer reports help prove immigration is beneficial to the economy, and doesn’t really affect job availability for natives. The large amount of workers coming in to the country to seek work shouldn’t inspire people to complain and argue something that has no back-up, but rather than reacting that way, people should become motivated to study and work harder, to deserve the jobs they claim are being taken away from them.

    Preventing immigration from happening will not strengthen the United States; however, it will prevent a group of prospective entrepreneurs, a group of hardworking individuals, and people willing to do almost any job for a low wage from coming into the country. Even though Shklar believes increasing citizenship would devalue it, wouldn’t several citizenship problems and outbreaks cause the citizens to be viewed worse, meaning the citizenship would be devalued while keeping it this exclusive?

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