Citizenship As Big Business

On the one hand there are now more refugees and stateless persons than ever before. On the other, the selling and buying of citizenship is a $25 billion a year global industry. Citizenship is viewed as an investment, marketed as such by its brokers. Wealthy Chinese who don’t feel safe in China, for example, or people who want to be able to travel freely within Europe or start a business there. More than half of the world’s countries have a program of citizenship through investment. In the US it costs $900,000 invested in a business that would create at least 10 jobs. In the UK it costs at least $2.5 million to buy a citizenship. Other countries are cheaper, although sometimes the cost can be surprising. Bulgaria’s is $560,000 close to that of Spain at $550,000 and the Caribbean islands from $150,000 or even in some cases $100,000. One of the most popular is the citizenship from Vanuatu which is $150,000, a program which is only 4 years old. It raises a lot of money for the tiny country which gained independence in the 1980’s and which can identify with what it means not to have a passport. It can take as little as a month and many of the people who have Vanuatu citizenship, which enables people to travel throughout Europe, have not even visited the tiny country made up of some 80 small islands in the Pacific.

One could say this business is a step, however distorted towards the notion of one world and it may slowly be causing a redefinition of what citizenship is—a point the marketers make.  But regardless of how it is pitched, it is an option that benefits the rich and as such contributes to the inequalities of the world. It is also a business open to corruption. Couldn’t a drug lord buy a US citizenship, and at the very least use it to launder money?  And so the issue of the buying and selling of citizenship begs the question: Are the minuses overshadowing the pluses?

Water and the Navajo Nation

58 out of every 1000 Native American households lack plumbing. For whites the numbers are 3 out of every 1000 households. That means no running water, no going to the tap or flushing the toilet as most of us take for granted.  Two organizations, Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance, recently issued a new report showing that some 2 million Americans lack these basic amenities and that Native Americans are more likely to be without than are any other group. Take someone like Darlene Yazze. She has to drive 9 miles to the community house of the little town of Dennehotso near the Four Corner Region of the Navajo Nation to get her water. She uses a large key which she has to plunge in the basin containing the water, turn it so that it opens the valve so that the water can run into her container. The water is not free and she was told the price is now going up. That is for drinking water only. To water her animals she needs to go to a windmill 5 miles away. There is no water there for the present which may or may not be a good thing because that water is contaminated by arsenic and uranium stemming from the nearby uranium mines. Even though they use it for animals although they will probably eventually eat those animals. The result is a much higher rate of cancer—in a region where healthcare availability is sparse.

While the report and the interest of the authoring organizations offer some hope, the problem is far from being resolved. It is estimated that it would cost about $200 million to provide water access and sanitation across the Navajo Nation. Somewhere within the increasing number of billionaires in the US, one could perhaps, or even ought to, come forward and give the needed $200 million.

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

Dear Carlos. There’s unfairness and tragedy in the way you died, at 16 in a holding cell at a border patrol station in Weslaco, alone since family separation policies took you from the older sister you came to the US with. You’re the sixth minor to die in custody. Like them you shouldn’t have died. You had the flu and your fever reached 103 and yet instead of sending you to emergency they put you in a cell with another sick boy so you wouldn’t contaminate others. The guards were supposed to check on you per the orders of the nurse practitioner who had seen you but didn’t. There are a lot of irregularities that have and will continue to surface as a result of your death. Already border patrol agents have been ordered not to rely on video to check on someone who is sick, but need to go in and see for themselves and take their temperature. You wanted to come to the US to be with your older brother who is here and works in construction. You didn’t make it, you didn’t get to see the joyful side of life, you didn’t get to experience love except from your family. But you accomplished a lot you didn’t expect to accomplish. ProPublica wrote a long article about you and through it hopefully through other such articles and the press it generated you are becoming an example and a symbol of how we treat minors at the border, and because of that, maybe things will change more than just ordering agents go into cells to check on those who are ailing. On behalf of all those who will end up benefiting from your short life, I want to thank you. I am sure that doesn’t make up for the loss you are to your parents and siblings, but even they would feel gratified by what amounts to a sacrificial life. Your death contributes to putting our system of treating migrants and refugees to shame, and that’s why to me at least it was not in vain.

Where Nuclear Fallout and Climate Change Meet

In 1954 the US conducted nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, 67 tests in fact.  Before leaving they took the radioactive materials and plutonium and buried them under a dome on a low lying atoll. But climate change has come to the Marshall Islands, and the rising seas are a threat to that dome and may destroy it because rising seas could unseal the toxic bomb inside the dome.  But nothing is being done. Meanwhile the Marshallese are experiencing a much higher level of thyroid cancer. Many families are and have been affected. It is safe to say the conditions have created a crisis for them. Climate change is affecting the whole of the islands, no more pristine coral reefs, high water temperatures, as high as 96 degrees, are killing thousands of black angelfish, pufferfish and other marine life, and the rising sea threatens inundations. The government is planning to build sea walls, but how long they will last is not known, nor how long before another nuclear disaster occurs.  Several countries now have nuclear weapons besides the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, France, several are on their way like Iran and North Korea, or are now trying to obtain them like Saudi Arabia, not to speak of non-state entities like terrorist groups.  While the Marshall Islands is an example of the consequences of what the pursuit of those weapons and the accompanying testing inevitably entails, they also stand for what happens when the unforeseen happens, when those consequences intersect with climate change and the problems it brings. Hopefully the whole situation and the dangers it poses will be a reminder of how dangerous nuclear weapons are for the world, for the survivors, for the countries involved and for how unpredictable disposing of radioactive materials can be. And perhaps in an oblique way it will also be a reminder of how imperative addressing climate change now is.