About 7.5 percent of Estonia’s 1.35 million people are stateless. Their “alien’s passports” allow them to enter many European countries without visas, just like Estonian citizens, though they tend to face more bureaucratic hurdles. In Estonia, they cannot vote in federal elections or hold some jobs.
And why are they stateless? The vast majority are ethnic Russians who didn’t leave Estonia when the USSR crumbled and haven’t passed Estonian language and citizenship tests. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language and not an especially easy one to tackle for speakers of Indo-European tongues like English or Russian, but I’d agree with the ethnic Estonians that a lot of the ethnic Russians haven’t given it much of a good faith effort, either because they are too old or because they’re too stuck in a one-way “our older brother Russia” bilingualism that predominated in the Soviet Union.
But the idea that Estonia finds it productive to keep nearly 10% of its permanent residents disenfranchised and carrying stateless passports two decades on seems ridiculous.
So how does this apply in the American context? Imagine that the stateless ethnic Russians in Estonia are the children of illegal immigrants born in this country if Lindsey Graham has his way and gets rid of birthright citizenship. Is it going to benefit the U.S. when 10% of our population consists of people carrying Mexican passports by birth who have never even set foot in Mexico, or people who don’t have a state at all? Will they riot like the Russians do in Estonia or will they just be unable to participate in society and sit around and rot?
Estonia could stand to incorporate its Russian citizens better, but no matter what, let its example of convoluted citizenship laws serve as a lesson to those who would seek to get rid of a constitutionally-protected system that works here in America.