2 posts from June 2007

June 27, 2007

The American Identity: Should We Allow Non-Citizens To Vote?

Author_cn_2 By C.N. Le

In my first post, I would like to discuss an issue in which I have both an academic and a personal interest:  the question of who qualifies to be an "American."  The question is of particular interest to me because I am a Vietnamese refugee. I came to the U.S. at the age of five and since then have traveled down the winding road of assimilation, ethnic identity, and social segregation.

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor caught my attention. In many locales around the country, there is a small but growing movement to extend the right to vote to non-citizen immigrants.  Of course, one of the basic benefits of being a U.S. citizen is the privilege of being able to vote in elections.  Perhaps not surprisingly, these proposals have evoked strong opinions on both sides.

Supporters argue that non-citizens are long-term residents who care about the same kinds of local issues that all citizens do: good schools, safe streets, reliable trash collection. Many pay taxes. Some are US military veterans. "They're living there, they have their kids in school, they're working, they're contributing to the local economy," says Kathleen Coll, a cultural anthropologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. "They're full, complete local citizens [who are] affected by local policies."

Some advocates want to limit voting rights to legal immigrants who intend to become citizens but haven't completed the process. Because naturalization takes on average eight years, the Migration Policy Institute reports, parents could see their 10-year-old graduate from high school before they have a say in the public school system.

But enfranchising non-citizens would unfairly dilute the strength of citizens' votes, says one critic, Steve Cameron, director of research at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. For opponents, the practice is just another step in accommodating unnecessary --and sometimes unlawful -- immigrants.

The debate around the merits of immigration -- legal and illegal-- is still raging in this country.  As I've posted on several times on my personal blog, I strongly support the rights of both legal and illegal immigrants. Academic research has shown quite convincingly that legal immigrants contribute significant benefits to American society, culture, and economy.

When it comes to measuring the societal impact of illegal immigrants, the data is more of a mixed bag.  While valid empirical evidence exists on both sides, the prevailing academic consensus is that taken as a whole, the presence of illegal immigrants results in more benefits than costs for American society. However, there are two very important caveats.

First, such benefits are most evident at the national level. However, states such as California, Texas, and Arizona, as well as large cities that contain the largest numbers of illegal immigrants usually have to bear a disproportionate share of the significant costs involved with illegal immigration (costs that include.social services, medical care, and education). The second caveat is that illegal immigrants may also have a slight negative effect on the wages of low-skilled workers, as they are generally willing to work for less money than native-born Americans will.

Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the bulk of the sociological and economic research argues that illegal immigration produces more benefits to American society than costs. The overwhelmingly positive impact of legal immigrants forms the basis for my strong support for the economic, legal, and voting rights of immigrants. 

As the Christian Science Monitor article argues, the most important factor in deciding who gets to vote should be whether a person contributes to the cultural, political, and economic strength of the country, not whether a person happens to have been born inside the U.S. If someone who avoids paying taxes, has no sense of civic duty, and engages in criminal activity, but happens to be born in the U.S. has a right to vote, shouldn't a non-citizen legal immigrant who pays taxes, obeys the law, and is actively involved in his or her community have that right?

To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr., what should matter is not the country in which you were born, but your deeds and actions while living in that country.

June 20, 2007

What is this site about?

Author_karen_3What if sociologists ran the world?

Okay, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon, but what if they commented on everything from politics, religion, race, and inequality to pop culture on a colorful, fun, website?

That’s more like it.

Welcome to Everydaysociologyblog.com, a brand-new site that features interesting, informative, and most of all entertaining commentary from sociologists around the United States. Come to this site regularly to get a sociological take on what is happening in the news (and on what should be in the news).

Although this site was created primarily for people taking or teaching classes in sociology, we are all really students of sociology, aren’t we? Whether we know it or not, we all generate ideas about social groups, about why things happen and about what should be done to address some of the challenges our society faces (like terrorism, health care and education). Issues like war and peace, gay rights, and why Paris Hilton is always on the news are things that many people try and make sense of.

We are trying to figure this stuff out too, and the many tools that sociology offers will help us to do so. These tools are not magic wands or secret codes—in fact, we want to share them with you to so we can all have a deeper and richer understanding of the world around us.

So here’s what you can expect from this site:

  1.  We promise to stay on top of current events and be as relevant as people over 25 with Ph.D.s possibly can be.
  2. We will avoid using jargon and terms that you actually need a Ph.D. to understand (although personally I think even people with Ph.D.s sometimes just pretend to understand).
  3. And most of all, we will keep things interesting—all of the posts on this site will pass the “so what?” test that some academic research frankly does not.

Sociology is a very diverse field, and our contributors have a wide variety of interests. You will see discussions of immigration, mental health, race, religion, gender, and other topics from a wide variety of perspectives. To bring in fresh ideas, we will also periodically have guest contributors.

And we will do more than lecture you. Even though most of us are professors who teach regularly, this site will be more of a conversation than a class. Okay, there might be some charts and graphs occasionally, but we promise there won’t be a test. We are going to do our best to help these ideas come to life through pictures and occasionally even streaming video. We also might write a little about our lives to bring some of the basics of sociology to life, but we promise—no endless blog rambling about what we had for dinner or random thoughts about why the cat hates the guy who lives next door.

You might be wondering—where do you fit in with all this? What about what you think? This site will present a variety of ideas and viewpoints, and you may not agree with some of them. That’s okay. In fact, sometimes we might purposefully play devil’s advocate.

For now we will just be posting our contributors’ columns, but eventually we will have a letter to the editor feature, which will allow you to respond to us with your thoughts, and we will also open select posts to reader comments. Remember, the point of this site is to learn more about how sociology helps us understand everyday life, not to vent! Quality control is really important to us, so you can be sure when you visit you won’t have to sift through a lot of junk.

So, welcome! We invite you to visit regularly and (eventually) to tell us what you think. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the sociological conversation.

Karen Sternheimer


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