Last week, Michael Anton (of “The Flight 93 Election” fame) wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Citizenship Shouldn’t be a Birthright,” which has caused paroxysms of huffing outrage from all of the predictable quarters of the left. A worse messenger for a perfectly sensible message would be hard to locate, but it isn’t merely the identity of the author that has people up in arms.
Monday, even the otherwise calm and reasoned Robert Tracinski wrote quite a doozy at The Federalist. Titled “Ending birthright citizenship will make the Republican Party look like the party of Dred Scott,” Robert responds to Anton’s op-ed with several hyperbolic claims that give undue credence to the left’s continuous charge that anything a Republican ever does (including breathe) is racist:
Anton’s proposal will be overwhelmingly interpreted as a declaration to black Americans that the Republican Party—the party that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment in the first place—now does not see them as equal citizens.
Excuse me, but this argument is so poor that it must be considered the leader in the clubhouse for non sequitur of the year. Not for nothing, when did Democrats start countenancing Republican policy proposals as anything other than racism? Welfare reform? That’s racist. Voter ID? Also racist. Border enforcement? Totally racist. Prisons and law enforcement? Super-duper racist. Even tax reform was pilloried as racist because it would disproportionately benefit whites according to its critics.
It’s true that the Democrats’ penchant for shouting “racist!” isn’t enough to dispel the possibility that this policy proposal didn’t stem from some wellspring of latent pro-white sentiment, however. So, what precisely is anti-black about the prospect of denying foreigners the right to have their children receive citizenship just for being born on our dirt? Nothing that I can see.
It’s an argument that doesn’t doesn’t even make sense, and no answer as to why is in the offing. Clearly, all African Americans who are currently citizens (and their children, by extension) are citizens. Anton’s proposal wouldn’t affect that one whit.
So, what exactly is the contemplated change? To understand this, you have to understand the history of Birthright Citizenship, which goes back (as most people will recall from history class) to the 14th Amendment. It states:
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. 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.
The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward. The 14th Amendment was necessary to annul the horrific Dred Scott decision, and was worded as it was to nullify the idea that black slaves and their children couldn’t even be citizens of the United States by dint of some spurious claims of “inferiority.” This, of course, was back when people had the will to do the hard work required to amend the Constitution if legislation or Court decisions went against them, rather than trying to enforce their will through judicial fiat — but that’s another story.
The trouble here arises from the term “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” which under modern understanding includes people whose parents were neither born here or naturalized; i.e., people who are not citizens or legal residents of this nation. This understanding, however, is merely an extension of the Wong Kim Ark case in which the Court held that the children of legal immigrants were granted citizenship. Congress could clarify that definition with a simple statutory modification.
But this is all dancing around the central issue: Why should we do away with birthright citizenship? First and foremost because there’s no reason for us to give something away to foreigners for nothing which is so intrinsically valuable. Citizenship is literally for sale in many nations of the world for a variety of prices. American citizenship (it should come as no shock) is worth a boatload to its possessor. A person with birthright citizenship can essentially never be deported, and thanks to the various and sundry welfare laws in our country, the nation is statutorily obligated to care for him in the event of his incapacity. This is a massive windfall for merely having had the good fortune to have been birthed within the confines of our nation.
The current policy also leads to absurdities, such as Birth Tourism, whereby foreigners (like from the left’s favorite country, Russia!) travel to the United States for the sole purpose of having their baby so that it will gain US citizenship … and thereby have a bolthole in the event things go sideways in their home country. To wit:
Why do they come? “American passport is a big plus for the baby. Why not?” Olesia Reshetova, 31, told NBC News.
Indeed. Why are we so stupid as to give something away which is obviously worth so much?
Reciprocity is another reason why this policy needs to be modified. If you’re a pregnant Spanish tourist and deliver your child here in the US, citizenship is automatic. If you’re an American in Spain? Buena suerte, chica. There’s simply no reason for us to have such an expansive policy when other nations don’t.
I can hear some people saying, “but American citizenship is a windfall that you were an unjust recipient of!” That is completely accurate. But I would point such people to other things such as “inheritance” or “having caring, intelligent parents” that are similarly “unjust” but about which conservatives are rightly nonplussed by comparison. Citizenship is a thing that we will to our children merely by having them.
What was the Founders’ opinion about this windfall? Well, we could also look at the Preamble of the Constitution for some guidance:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [emphasis mine]
To whom were the blessings of liberty to be secured by the formation of this nation? Ourselves and our posterity … our children. Explicitly not the children of foreigners who sneaked into the nation. Worth noting is that the notions of “Justice” and “Domestic Tranquility” surely must include fair and even enforcement of the law and an expectation of peace which comes from knowing that the people who surround you are also citizens or legal immigrants to the nation.
How many other nations in the world have birthright citizenship? Many, mostly in the Western Hemisphere, but not all. Is there precedent for revoking birthright citizenship? Yes. In 1986, Australia imposed restrictions upon birthright citizenship, holding that at least one parent of a child must have legal, permanent residency in Australia in order to gain citizenship there. It’s possible the deliberations of the Australian Parliament in Canberra centered solely upon the need to deprive non-whites of Australian citizenship, but somehow I doubt it. India (curiously, another Anglosphere nation) abolished it utterly in 2004. Worth noting: neither of these countries were subducted by vengeful flames into the Earth’s molten core for daring to remove birthright citizenship either.
Given my druthers, citizenship and residency would work on a sliding scale, whereby people gain full citizenship in our nation via a demonstration of merit. That isn’t the world we live in, and I am utterly resigned to that fact. But I’m also not the sort of person who will allow a presumed image of perfection to be the enemy of the good. Therefore, down with birthright citizenship. It is both a travesty and a con played upon our children and the future of our nation.