Six years? Ten years? Fifteen? How long does it take for a naturalized citizen of the United States to be considered an American? Maybe we should add up all the times they’ve called home, multiply that by how many pictures of family members they have in their bedroom, and subtract from that number how many friends they’ve made in the last year to get our magical number. Or maybe it depends on what country they’ve emigrated from, what language(s) they speak, or perhaps their religion? How many apple pies have they eaten, baseball games attended, or even fireworks watched? To avoid having to choose from one of these many options, my radical suggestion is that we just think of immigrants as Americans the very day they become a citizen. I know it sounds crazy, but I think this proposition would really help government officials when they have to rapidly decide whether or not the Constitution applies to all citizens, or just the ones who came out of the womb bleeding red, white, and blue, like in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
In case you haven’t heard, there are several Congressmen pleading with the Obama administration to treat the lone surviving perpetrator, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as an enemy combatant rather than an American criminal. The original definition of an enemy combatant was “any member of the armed forces of the state with which another state is at war.” The definition was expanded after 9/11 to include any member of al Qaeda or the Taliban, but constrained once again to its original meaning in 2009 by President Obama. Regardless of which definition you prefer to use, neither one, so far as anybody knows, applies to the Chechen-American Tsarnaev.
I am not even going to discuss the differences between military and civilian court, because, quite frankly, they are irrelevant to my argument. My point is not to persuade you which system would be more effective, more efficient, or more retributive. My point is that law is law, and undermining one part of it undermines it all. Not only does overlooking definitions compromise legal authority, it blatantly contradicts the proclaimed American ideal that all men should be treated equally.* If Tsarnaev is tried as an enemy combatant, it sends the message that he, for whatever reason, does not fit the qualifications for a citizen of the United States, even though he’s lived here since he was eight and became a citizen last year. Do these lawmakers want him singled out for being Chechen? For being Muslim? Who else doesn’t deserve their Constitutional rights? You? Me?
The implications of this decision, if implemented, would penetrate our nation’s foundation. When the Bostonians shouted “USA” in celebration of Tsarnaev’s capture, I presume they were voicing their pride in America’s supposed commitment to freedom and justice.* Let trying circumstances not turn us into hypocrites, then, but let times like this remind us of our values and push us to pursue them above all else. For if we don’t, we give the terrorist far more power than any explosive ever could. By himself he can only pick off pedals, but with our help, he can uproot us.
*”Proclaimed” and “supposed” are used here to clarify that my views regarding this issue are not based on the premise that the U.S. typically acts in line with its professed values. If you want a reason for this cynicism, please click on the following link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB-7GFOv49s