Dr. Munger sent me this by email early last week. It ran in the Durham Herald on Wednesday. I think this piece presents a fascinating and liberating view of immigration. What do you think?
I think immigrants should be able to attend community colleges. But then maybe that's because I myself am an immigrant.
Well, not really. I should say I come from a family of immigrants. My ancestors had the surname "Mancgere," or "merchant" in Anglo-Saxon. They moved from County Surrey, England, and settled in the Guilford Colony, near New Haven, Connecticut. Nicholas Munger apparently owned land there beginning in 1651.
I wonder if Nick had trouble sending his kids to community college. You see, old granddad (times 11) Nick never filled out the paperwork required to become a citizen. It seems that he landed at New Haven, left the ship, and went to visit some friends. He met a girl, they got married, and settled down on a portion of her dad's land. Nicholas was a citizen simply because he was a resident of the state of Connecticut. There was no difference.
Nicholas Munger's children, John and Samuel (I'm from the Samuel side) were both U.S. citizens by virtue of birth. But they didn't fill out any paperwork, either. If they went to school, there's no record of it. I imagine they had some rudimentary schooling, though. Nobody asked to see their green card.
"Citizen" is an arbitrary legal status. It gives me the willies to think of "citizen" as a construct that stands in for real identity. Was Nicholas an American? Once he moved here and started paying taxes, yes he was. And if he had brought a child with him, that child would have been a citizen, too. You didn't have to be born here. You just had to want to live here.
Our immigration policy today could not be more different. We make it nearly impossible for people to become Americans legally. We punish people who try to become residents. And then we deny long-time residents the benefits that we give to citizens for free.
Citizenship is a status given, or withheld, by federal law and regulation. But all of the benefits of state residence, including in-state status for schools from kindergarten through graduate school, are based on being able to establish you live here. I just dropped my son Kevin, a 12 generation American Mancgere, at UNC-Chapel Hill. No one asked for his passport. We had to show our residence address, demonstrate that we paid taxes in North Carolina, and show our utility bills. Those things proved our residence in the state. Those things qualified my son, and they should qualify anyone's son or daughter, for the benefits the state provides.
And yet, we are now rushing to deny the benefits of residence to thousands of young people who live in our state. Some have lived here for a decade or more, attending our school system and amassing an academic record that meant they earned a high school diploma. They will be working in jobs all over the state.
The children of immigrants will add, or detract, from the economic life of our state depending on whether they can acquire the skills needed to compete in the 21st century workplace. And new businesses will decide whether to locate in North Carolina, or someplace else, depending on whether we have a workforce with those same skills.
What should the standard be? What status should be required to attend community college, or college, as an in-state student? The same as for everyone else: demonstration of residence. The same as for Nicholas Munger, in 1651: live on the land, work, pay taxes, contribute to the community.
But North Carolina has decided that it will place exclusion first, and focus on arbitrary legal distinctions, rather than the welfare of its residents and the future of our economy. By barring the undocumented from getting an education, we are creating an apartheid system with fertile pickings for gang recruitment and exploitation by unscrupulous employers who thrive on ignorance. And we are telling prospective business recruits: go elsewhere. We prefer illiteracy.
Once I established that I am a resident of North Carolina, no one at Chapel Hill asked for my passport when I dropped my son off at Hinton James dormitory. And that's how it should be. Anyone who lives in North Carolina, who pays taxes here, and who accepts a stake in our economic and civic future deserves a shot at education, at the same rates as anyone else. Discriminating among state taxpayers based on where they used to live is un-American.
Michael Munger is the chair of the Political Science Department at Duke, and is the Libertarian nominee for governor in the coming election.