Discussion topic: Birthright citizenship

While the racism cards have been flying over the matter of so-called illegal immigration (emphasis on the illegal, light on the immigration) a more serious component of the issue has arisen, that of the concept of birthright citizenship. Under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” In practice, this has permitted illegals to automatically grant US citizenship to their newborns simply by making it across the border in time for the delivery. While there may be some question about whether this practice is widespread or even factors in to the timing decision of those illegals coming here, it is nonetheless true that it introduces a problem.

First, let’s get something right up onto the table. The United States is one of a small minority of countries that practice birthright citizenship, more properly termed jus soli (Latin for law of ground). The more common method of determining citizenship of a newborn is to confer upon the child the citizenship of the parents, called jus sanguinis. (In the case where the 2 parents are actually citizens of different countries, the child is usually considered to hold dual citizenship in both countries.) So, the method practiced by the United States is actually more permissive than is generally done in the rest of the world. That’s not a justification for or against, it’s merely the fact and it’s something everyone discussing this should keep in mind.

There have been efforts made to change how the US confers citizenship on those born here, most recently pushed into the news by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Both House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have said that this is a matter than deserves further study and debate. I agree. Critics of this kind of debate usually suggest that there really isn’t a problem here; that illegals don’t come here to have kids. (Usually after making suggestions that the idea of changing the law is racist, I might add.) They contend that while the child would benefit, the parents would get no benefit out of it until the child reaches 18 years of age and can then sponsor the parents for residency. This argument ignores the reality of what happens when illegals are arrested and detained today. These same people who wave off the notion that this is a problem are the loudest voices screaming about the deportation of illegals who have young, American-born kids in their homes.

We can’t separate the kids from their parents! What kind of monsters are you Republicans, anyway?!?

Illegals who make the dangerous trip busting our borders while pregnant are counting on that kind of reaction. The babies born here aren’t carrying the hope of a legal sponsorship for the parents, they’re carrying the hope of being an anchor our law enforcement agencies will lack the strength to dislodge. And let us be honest: the way the law is written today, we’re not talking about deporting the minor child of an illegal, we’re talking about deporting a fellow citizen, something our immigrations laws absolutely cannot do. We cannot deport the child. So crossing the border in time to give birth here means the illegal has our immigrations agents right where they want them. ICE can’t deport a citizen regardless of who he’s related to and our political system won’t allow them to separate the child from his Mom. This is way better than a legal sponsorship in 18 years. It’s a badge of immunity from immigrations actions right now.

This is an incentive regardless of how strong any of us might judge it to be and it’s something we can fix. Many countries that followed the same jus soli practice we do have modified their approach or gone to a jus sanguinis system entirely. As I understand it, the suggestion being made today is to modify our law such that a child born in the US or in a US territory is considered a US citizen only if at least 1 of his parents is a citizen or legal resident. Otherwise, the child gains the citizenship of his parents by whatever method that country has in force at the time. I fail to see how this would represent a burden for any legal resident of the United States and I think it would be a good change to the law.

Of course, this is no matter of simply passing a bill in Congress and getting it signed. This is a Constitutional Amendment, something of properly significant weight. Congress must pass the bill, by 2/3rds in both the Senate and the House. Then it must be ratified by 3/4ths of the State legislatures. Given the current environment in Congress, there’s no way this effort will ever move. After November it might be a different story and, considering the support that Arizona’s immigration enforcement law enjoys around the country, ratification by the States might not be the impossible move some think.

In any case, this is an issue that deserves some honest discussion.