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Sunday, March 28, 2010

George Will Blows it on Birthright Citizenship

George Will has just come out in favor of ending birthright citizenship, and believes that doing such a thing would be within the powers of Congress. While I generally agree with Will's positions, this is one time when I think he has thoroughly missed the boat.

The Fourteenth Amendment states that those "born or naturalized in the US" and subject to American jurisdiction are citizens. This was passed chiefly to clarify the status of freedmen. This was further clarified in two other post-Civil War Amendments that affirmed voting rights--and hence citizenship--for freedmen.

The wording of the Fourteenth Amendment speaks of those under the jurisdiction of the United States as enjoying the full protection of the laws. Will rightly notes that such rights were not extended to American Indians until the 1920's, but that was because of a fiction that viewed tribes registered with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as sovereign "nations". However, this fiction is now a dead letter, and, since illegals are neither visiting heads of state nor diplomats, they are most clearly under the jurisdiction of the United States. This is one reason why deportation is such a cumbersome process: an illegal who is caught deep inside the
USA can be deported only following court proceedings.

Further, the Fourteenth Amendment also was passed at a time when over 600,000 Americans, both North and South, had been killed in the Civil War. America needed immigration, and immigration laws reflected this condition. Since the United States could never realistically implement an "ethnic" definition of citizenship, birthright citizenship was an easy and effective way to ensure the ultimate assimilation of immigrant groups.

Also, does the USA want a permanent class of non-citizens? The Turkish communities in Germany and the Korean communities inn Japan, both of which find themselves barred from citizenship, are fruitful sources of discontent and organized crime. The Falastin Arabs across the Arab world, who are also kept as stateless refugees, are an infamous source of instability. Unless effective physical barriers complete with guards operating under orders to shoot to kill were built along both of America's borders, it would be impossible to keep unwanted people out. Wretched conditions in much of Mexico and Central America would continue to push emigration from those countries in any situation. The flow of illegals from Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and southwestern China into Thailand during the 1990's, or the presence of large numbers of Southeast Asian guest workers in Taiwan--to take two examples of states with stringent rules for naturalization--are reminders that any country that is doing anything right will become a magnet for migration.

The only countries that do not host migrants of some kind or another are those that have made either economic, political, or social conditions intolerable for many or most of their citizens. This alone should cause Americans to develop at least a little sense of proportion about illagal immigration. Yes, it is a problem. Yes, something needs to be done. But, do cost to benefit analyses truly suggest that we need to go through the trouble of a Constitutional Amendment to solve the problem?

While deportation and other laws probably need some teeth, abolishing jus soli citizenship is no solution. And, since we live in an imperfect world in which the USA will remain a migration magnet unless it learns to turn itself into another Afghanistan, Haiti, Cuba, or Sierra Leone, jus solis citizenship will at least give the children of illegals a stake in the USA, and prevent the growth of a permanently disenfranchised and hostile class of people within its borders.

If the USA were serious about illegal immigration, it would simply appropriate the funds needed for the immigration service to do its job, and enforce the laws already on the books.

1 comment:

  1. This is an alarming change in the law. It goes beyond merely keeping out unwanted immigration but actually works against those who have a long history of family and citizenship in the United States and places those working overseas at risk of losing their citizenship.