In the play “Gem of the Ocean” by the late acclaimed playwright August Wilson, one of the characters is named Citizen. “Citizen”, another character comments, “that’s a heavy load to carry.”

Citizen explains his mother gave him that name, so every day he could be reminded who he is a citizen of this country entitled to all the rights and privileges.

Two recent events have got me thinking about the concept of citizenship.

The first was the recent passage of the Senate immigration bill. No sooner did the bill pass than House Republicans made it clear they would not support it. They want more muscle behind border security and stronger English language requirements. But their biggest sticking point is the path to citizenship guaranteed by the Senate bill. Republicans in the House say citizenship must be off the table too precious to be granted easily; and it should not be a reward for those who came illegally and have lived in the shadows.

To be clear, the Senate bill does not give away citizenship the 11 million undocumented immigrants will have to master certain requirements to earn it. Anybody who has witnessed a naturalization ceremony knows how hard the newest Americans work to earn their new status. And who is likely to be a better citizen then someone who has had to work for it?

Ironically, in the early 1960s African Americans who were citizens had to protest and fight for the right to vote. Back then, especially in many parts of the South, towns and entire states routinely blocked African Americans from voting. These disenfranchised citizens literally put their bodies on the line to claim their privilege. Congress was finally spurred to pass Voting Rights legislation in 1965 after the nation witnessed a brutal bloody beating of unarmed protestors on Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

But recently, the Supreme Court decided that a section of the act was unconstitutional. That despite documented discrimination targeted at voters of color identified as recently as the 2012 elections. With no strong legal protection, these citizens are vulnerable to losing their right to vote, again.

In August Wilson’s play the character Citizen Barlow learned that freedom was a heavy load to carry. Better, then, to have many hands to lift. I think a citizenship that can never be earned, or one whose complete privileges are denied to some, is a dangerous reality.