A Nation of Immigrants

Recently there has been a fair amount of discussion over whether the U.S. should continue to grant “birthright citizenship” to the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment has long been held to require the granting of such citizenship, and last month Senator Lindsey Graham proposed a Constitutional Amendment to change that fact.

The issue has led to a few topsy-turvy political conclusions. Here, for example is Mark Krikorian (author of The New Case Against Immigration: Legal and Illegal) arguing that ending birthright citizenship would be a bad idea:

I don’t like illegals having U.S.-citizen kids any more than anyone else, but there’s no evidence suggesting that this “drop and leave” stuff is true — anything’s possible, I suppose, but it’s just an assertion at this point. My own sense is that most illegal alien women who have kids here (accounting for nearly 10 percent of all children born in the U.S. each year) didn’t come for that purpose; they came for jobs or to join relatives, and one thing led to another, birds-and-bees style, and they had kids. There are no doubt some people who dash across the border illegally to have kids, but they just can’t amount to a large share of the problem. Nor does the problem of “birth tourism” require a change in the Constitution — we just need to permit (and require) our consular officers to reject visa applications from pregnant women, inviting them to re-apply once they’ve given birth in their own countries.

And here is open-borders advocate Will Wilkinson arguing that ending birthright citizenship could paradoxically make Americans more open to immigrants:

The EU’s shortcomings, from bureaucratic micromanagement to a floundering common currency, have obscured its great practical and moral triumph: the dramatic expansion of European mobility rights and the inspiring integration of the continent’s labor markets. When Britain opened its labor markets to Polish workers in 2004, the gap in average income between the two countries was about as big as that between the United States and Mexico. But per capita GDP in Poland has improved markedly since then, hastening the day when Poland provides a robust market for British goods – and possibly British labor, too. Similarly, by 2012, Romanians and Bulgarians, who are on average poorer than Mexicans, will be able to live and work in rich countries such as France, Germany, and Britain. It’s worth noting, however, that not a single EU country has a birthright citizenship rule like that in the U.S.

As Wilkinson notes, birthright citizenship is pretty rare in Europe. Actually, it’s rare in all parts of the world except one. Here, for example, is a list (via Wikipedia) of countries that practice birthright citizenship:

Antigua and Barbuda
Chile (children of transient foreigners or of foreign diplomats on assignment in Chile only upon request)
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Saint Christopher and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States

Notice anything about this list? Most of the countries in the New World have birthright citizenship, whereas virtually no country has it anywhere else (Cuba apparently doesn’t have birthright citizenship, but what do you expect from a bunch of commies). I don’t think this is a coincidence. The New World is, for the most part, populated by people with ancestors who came here only a few hundred years ago. Such societies are, it seems, much less willing to consider citizenship something that purely a matter of blood, rather than where you live.

14 Responses to A Nation of Immigrants

  1. John Henry says:

    Well, we don’t want to be like France, so I say we should keep birth right citizenship.

  2. Melinda MT says:

    I say keep birthright citizenship – it gives the parents (perhaps especially those without current legal status)a larger stake in the laws and well being of our country, provides an impetus to pursue legal status and become responsible taxpayers and voting citizens…

  3. Tito Edwards says:

    Senator Graham is creating a straw man to distract from his own problems.

    In short, it is nearly impossible to do what he wants to do and ill-conceived. He’s turning into a joke.

  4. The 14th amendment’s citizenship by birth clause was put in place to protect former slave’s right to citizenship. Obviously there are no more former slaves around, but it should stay in order to protect against the gov’t trying to remove some other group’s citizenship.
    I wonder why Pakistan, Lesotho and Fiji are the only three countries outside the Americas to offer citizenship by birthright.

  5. Dale Price says:

    Keep it. The so-called “anchor babies” aren’t the problem with our current immigration policy/fiasco.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The idea that two non-citizens can magically give birth to an American citizen simply because the birth occurs in America has always struck me as idiocy on stilts. I say that as the son of an immigrant to this country who observed our laws and came here legally. The Fourteenth Amendment was a carelessly designed amendment that has wreaked much havoc in American life, and this is merely one more example, and one of course completely unintended by the unskilled drafters of the Amendment. I support an amendment to end this absurdity. Such an amendment of course makes too much sense to ever get through the current Congress.

  7. I’m not sure that it happens all that often, but I actually kind of like the idea of birth tourism. If people are sneaking over the border to give birth to an American citizen, I think that says more for our country than against it.

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area goes all the way back to 1982 when Justice Brennan, in a footnote in Phyler v. Doe, extended citizenship to the offspring born in this country of illegal aliens in this country:

    “10. Although we have not previously focused on the intended meaning of this phrase, we have had occasion to examine the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. . . .” (Emphasis added.) Justice Gray, writing for the Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), detailed at some length the history of the Citizenship Clause, and the predominantly geographic sense in which the term “jurisdiction” was used. He further noted that it was

    impossible to construe the words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” in the opening sentence [of the Fourteenth Amendment], as less comprehensive than the words “within its jurisdiction,” in the concluding sentence of the same section; or to hold that persons “within the jurisdiction” of one of the States of the Union are not “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”

    Id. at 687.

    Justice Gray concluded that

    [e]very citizen or subject of another country, while domiciled here, is within the allegiance and the protection, and consequently subject to the jurisdiction, of the United States.

    Id. at 693. As one early commentator noted, given the historical emphasis on geographic territoriality, bounded only, if at all, by principles of sovereignty and allegiance, no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment “jurisdiction” can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful. See C. Bouve, Exclusion and Expulsion of Aliens in the United States 425-427 (1912).”


    I can understand how people could be upset with reversing a ruling with the hoary standing of 28 years.

  9. G-Veg says:

    It strikes me as extraordinarily good policy for citizenship to be transmitted through blood and birth place. Frankly, I am not sure I understand the complaint that brings forth this seemingly idiotic bill to begin with.

    There is no official immigration policy that correlates to the “anchor baby” concept. Undeniably, whether there is someone to care for young children at home plays a major role in custody issues but this is true whether or not the children in question are legally present in the US. There are also waiver issues that are affected by being an immediate relative of an US Citizen and, of course, citizen sons and daughters (adults) can petition for their alien parents.

    Where is the harm then? More to the point, what is the alternative?

    As it stands, immigration authorities have a hell of a time dealing with people who have lived most of their lives in the US and are nonetheless removable. Having been brought to the US as infants, they may not even know that they are unlawfully present aliens. I cannot imagine why it would be good policy, let alone good law, to render removable persons who were born in the US.

    I’m happy to listen to practical policy arguments in favor of such a change.

  10. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Where is the harm then?”

    Other than anchor baby “citizens” allowing their relatives, under the family reunification policy, to jump the waiting list and come to the US legally, giving whole families legal status to receive welfare benefits in the US, giving a true bonus to people who spit in the face of our immigration laws to come here illegally, making people who wait around the world seeking legal immigration feel even more like dunces, why not a thing I guess.

  11. jh says:

    “Senator Graham is creating a straw man to distract from his own problems.

    In short, it is nearly impossible to do what he wants to do and ill-conceived. He’s turning into a joke.”

    I am not sure what problems Senator Graham has. He got reelected last election cycle

    That being said I think Graham might be on to something. People might go for Comp Immigration reform if this was tied to it.

    I actually don’t think the problem is the States but getting it out of Congress. A vote like this could give elected officals some cover to vote for immigration reform. It think it should be explored.

  12. jh says:

    I believe Mark Krikorian greatest fear is people will think this is a good compromise and thus his quite radical anti immigration agenda will go down in flames

  13. G-Veg says:

    Good Morning Don,

    Forgive me for the point-by-point, but your statements deserve serious consideration.

    “[A]nchor baby “citizens” allowing their relatives, under the family reunification policy, to jump the waiting list and come to the US legally”.

    It is my view that this long-term application of the broad policy of favoring families over individual merit in immigration is the least obnoxious. First, it is very long-term indeed. Until age 18, the hypothetical USC born here as an “anchor” can do little for the alien parents or siblings. As a practical matter, this virtually guarantees that the parents in the equation will pursue other immigration avenues to obtain legal status in the interim. The odds are quite good that one of our hypothetical USC’s uncles or aunts, grandparents, or legitimate step-parent either is or will become an USC on their own. Make no mistake, having USC children but being unlawfully present oneself undoubtably spurs fraud. Marriage fraud, document fraud, employment fraud, and asylum fraud all surely get a boost in clientele from the realization that leaving the US without your USC children likely means a significant family separation. But, in the balance of things, I believe it is generally good for those who live in the US to have a stake in the country. If one is born and grows up in the US, one’s interests are more likely to be tied to America than the country of one’s parents.

    “[G]iving whole families legal status to receive welfare benefits in the US”

    Like much of the immigration equation, this is both a demonstrably true and patently false statement. There are a great many aliens, permanent residents, and naturalized citizens receiving a host of social benefits that I believe they either are not or should not be entitled to. However, my experience suggests that the largest of these groups are those brought from the former Soviet Union under the Lautenberg Amendment, as refugees, and as the parents of USCs, not under the scenario you have laid out. There are quite a lot of persons who came to the US in their late 50s or early 60s from the former Soviet Union. They continue to stream across the border through entirely legal means. Once here, refugee resettlement groups and ethnic advocates help them apply for every conceivable benefits. At the very least, they will be virtually assured of receiving SSI for the rest of their lives. Regardless of which benefits they receive, life in America’s cities is almost always going to be significantly better than it was in Russia or Ukraine, for example. They are willing to accept positively squalid conditions and are even given special exemption under US Naturalization law to the general requirement that they be able to speak, read, and write English. My point is, therefore, not that you perspective is wrong. Indeed, the observation is correct but, my experience suggests that the target is wrong and, therefore, any legislation that is designed to address that target is misguided.

    “[G]iving a true bonus to people who spit in the face of our immigration laws to come here illegally, making people who wait around the world seeking legal immigration feel even more like dunces”

    This is, to my view, the strongest argument in favor of the policy change you favor. It is unquestionably true that every benefit is weighed by intending immigrants: before they come to the US, at time of entry, and when deciding whether to remain or not. I do not doubt that there are many who believe – largely incorrectly – that having an “anchor baby” in the US will prevent them from being removed. So too there are likely many who have their children here so that, at the very least, their children will have a guaranteed right to come to and remain in the US. I suspect though that most of these babies are born because life goes on regardless of one’s status. The unlawfully present alien continues to do all of the things that our species is inclined to, including establishing durable relationships and mating. The kids are, in most cases, likely an afterthought, not the reason for remaining illegally in the US.

    In the balance of things, I think the larger picture is much more complex than pictured by either immigrant advocates or those who seek solid immigration reform. The problems in immigration law tend to be the special exemptions such as waivers for aggravated felonies, restrictions on the use of information such as was required under Legalization, frivolous law suites such as Catholic Social Services unceasingly files, and the misguided employment-based process that allows companies to own visas and hold them over the heads of worker – thereby holding down wages. These are the targets that are worth our time, not the hypothetical 18 year old who is finally able to file for her father.

  14. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Thankf you G-Veg for the throughful analysis of my rather snarky response.

    Your response of course demonstrates that anchor babies are only a portion of what ails our dysfunctional immigration system. I do not see why we can’t chew bubble gum and walk at the same time. Amend the constitution to end anchor baby status, (I must admit that I find the trope I’m hearing of “leave the Constitution alone!” in regard to this issue charming in its naivety as the Supreme Court in effect has “amended” the Constitution thousands of time), largely shutting down our Southern border to illegal immigrants, and beginning a rigorous process of expulsion of illegal aliens. This will not be done because the people who benefit from the current system have more political power than the people who wish to have our immigration laws enforced. I do think however that this may be changing.

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