Born to be an American

27 May

A friend of mine posted this link to an NPR story about how some lawmakers are attempting to challenge the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For those of us who weren’t paying attention when this was covered in school, the 14th Amendment reads:

Section 1. 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.

Which means that a child born within the United States or any of its territories (i.e. Puerto Rico) is automatically a U.S. citizen, regardless of who his parents are or where they were born. A simple fact that Tea Party members still can’t seem to grasp. But I digress, because the issue at hand isn’t whether President Obama is a citizen (spoiler: he is!), it’s about the children of “illegal” immigrants.

The Amendment continues by stating that:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But 91 members of Congress and lawmakers in two states are going against this, sponsoring bills that would deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. if both of their parents are in the country illegally, because they say those immigrants are then using their children’s rights as citizens to gain benefits the parents should be denied. The article is linked above; read it at your leisure. I just want to touch on a few things.

Let’s start with this quote from Randy Terrill, Republican state representative in Oklahoma:

“Currently, if you have a child born to two alien parents, that person is believed to be a U.S. citizen. When taken to its logical extreme, that would produce the absurd result that children of invading armies would be considered citizens of the U.S.”

Firstly, I love how he dehumanizes the child: “that person”. Not the innocent baby with no say in where he was born being punished for the “sin” of his parents’ illegal status, but “that person”.

Secondly, what?? That’s not a “logical extreme”; it’s not even logic. Why would the mother and father both be in the invading army? Especially if the mother is that pregnant? (If both parents are non-citizens, the baby would have to be born on American soil.) And if they’re invaders, would they even want their child to be a U.S. citizen?

Now, someone pointed out to me that “children of our armies which have invaded other countries are US citizens, too. See Also, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq …” [sic] I believe she was referring to our soldiers impregnating residents of those countries, because she went on to point out that even if the baby is born outside of the U.S., the baby would be a citizen if the father is a citizen and claims the baby as his child. Still, if we extend that scenario to Terrill’s “logic”, we’re talking about a soldier invading the U.S. and impregnating an American woman. In that case, the baby has a twofold claim to citizenship: 1) born on American soil 2) to a U.S. citizen (hmm, kind of like our president! …sorry.). So I still don’t see Terrill’s point.

Here’s another logical extreme: If we want to deny citizenship to babies born in this country, why not deny citizenship to all babies born in this country? Even if their parents are citizens. Have the children be wards of their parents, then make everyone apply for legal citizenship at the age of 18. After all, the naturalization process is so easy, I don’t know why so many people don’t apply! (In case you didn’t click that link: Yes, this is sarcasm.)

Back to the article:

Some state legislatures still might act, if only in hopes of bringing this issue before the Supreme Court.

My gut reaction to this is: “Yeah, good luck with that. The Supreme Court’s reason for being is to uphold the Constitution, which says quite plainly that U.S.-born babies are citizens and states can’t change that.” However, we’re talking about a Court that recently gave rights of citizenship to corporations (at least in terms of political contributions) without also demanding they answer to all the responsibilities we individual, human citizens must face (like paying our fair share of taxes). Who knows what they might do next; but that’s a side rant.

The authors of the 14th Amendment, [Texas state Rep. Leo Berman] argues, intended to make citizenship contingent on allegiance to the country.

Denying citizenship-by-birthright would theoretically apply to all illegal immigrants’ children, but let’s be honest and point out that the main problem anti-immigration ranters have is with Mexican immigrants. Most of whom come to the States looking for a better life, better opportunities, a better future for their (gasp!) children. Doesn’t that kind of imply that they’re renouncing allegiance to Mexico, who they feel has failed them, in favor of America? And, you know, a lot of them would love to be American citizens and officially pledge allegiance to Old Glory; but as noted before, our government makes it so damn hard that they don’t bother.

Opponents to granting birthright citizenship often grab hold of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” saying that those in the country illegally are by their nature not subject to the jurisdiction in question, whether it’s the U.S. or a particular state.

Many other lawyers say that’s a false reading. “Of course they’re under our jurisdiction,” says Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst with the American Immigration Council, which works to protect the legal rights of immigrants. “If they commit a crime, they’re subject to the jurisdiction of the courts.”

What she said. I also love this quote from Karen Tumlin:

“It’s a core American belief that those who are born here get integrated into our society, no matter where your parents are from. This [proposed legislation]would be an erosion of the core principles about who belongs in this country.”

(Anyone remember the Melting Pot?)

I could almost understand the anti-birthright stance if the government were, say, paying for NHS-style health care for all its citizens. (This is a lie. I will never understand the “most powerful country” on Earth turning its back on children within its borders, regardless of their origin.)

“Well,” you might say, “the children of illegal immigrants are a drain on our national school system.” The point of said system being to educate children so that they can become productive members of Society. Productive, tax-paying members of Society. Huh. Maybe – just maybe – it’s in our best interest to confer citizenship on these babies, else they renege on our investment by not paying taxes after being educated by our school system. (An anti-immigration commenter on the NPR article claimed that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes, but this is a fallacy. Those paid off the books may pay less, but in general immigrant households pay on par with native-born households. In my personal experience, immigrants are more willing to pay than native-born Americans, perhaps because they have a deeper appreciation for the benefits of living in the U.S. and know that those benefits aren’t just given for free.)

And of course, in the debate on immigration, there still exists that age-old, painful but true question: If we close our borders, if we deport all illegal immigrants, who is going to clean the hotel rooms and office buildings? Mow the lawns? Drive the taxis? Next time you hear someone complain about “the illegals stealing our jobs”, ask them if they’re willing to step in and perform those roles. I bet I can guess the answer.

All this talk about the problem with immigration bewilders me. America would not exist if not for immigration. The country was built by those “huddled masses” from other lands, “yearning to breathe free”. I was born on American soil, but I wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for immigrants from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Germany, France, Sweden, other countries I’m forgetting because I don’t have my family tree in front of me… and a tribe of Seneca. So I do also have a touch of Native claim to these lands.

But if you really want to deport an immigrant, I’ll volunteer in the name of my ancestors. I’d rather go live in the UK anyway.

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