Birthright Citizenship

by John Derbyshire

Radio Derb took a bite at the birthright-citizenship issue last week, thus:

There’s a kind of glum satisfaction you get when an issue you’ve been interested in for years makes it to the headlines.

It took me seventeen years, 1985-2002, to get from H-1B visa to U.S. citizen. When you’re involved in a process for seventeen years it gets your interest. By the turn of the century I was thoroughly familiar with the highways and byways of U.S. immigration policy, including the Anchor Baby business — tourists and illegal aliens having babies in the U.S.A. so they could claim birthright citizenship for the child under the 14th Amendment.

Contrariwise, native citizens of a country who never have to deal with its immigration laws usually have only the foggiest ideas about them. When you tell people about the birthright citizenship business they are surprised, and often very angry. Americans are proud of their country and treasure its citizenship. When they hear that foreigners can get that citizenship for their kids by a ruse, they are outraged.

Rasmussen took a poll back at the beginning of June, asking people if they thought the children of illegal immigrants should have citizenship. Fifty-eight percent said no. Only 33 percent said yes, which is the current position in law.

Well, with the prominence given to illegal immigration by the Arizona case, birthright citizenship is being publicly discussed, for the first time I can remember. In fact, Congress-wise it’s a growth point. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Kyl have called for Congress to examine the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he may propose a Constitutional amendment to settle the matter, since the 14th Amendment didn’t address it clearly, and immigration didn’t even come up in the debates on the 14th, whose purpose was to secure citizenship for freed slaves. John McCain and Jeff Sessions have chimed in with support for a congressional inquiry.

You have to wonder about the sincerity of any of this. Birthright citizenship is an obviously lousy idea — other countries have been revoking it at a fair clip this past few years — but given the ambiguity of the 14th, and a legal environment patroled by leftist fanatics like Susan Bolton and Vaughn Walker, a Constitutional amendment probably is necessary. It’s an awfully hard thing to do, though, and politicians who call for a Constitutional amendment on anything are usually just looking for cheap grace — easy points with supporters backed by the certainty they’ll never actually have to deliver anything.

You have to be doubly suspicious when the names of recent warriors for amnesty and open borders are on the list: that would be McCain and Graham.

Here’s what Radio Derb thinks. Instead of impossible hopes for a Constitutional amendment, just change the law to stop chain migration. That’s the ability of citizens to sponsor foreign relatives for settlement. Without chain migration, the baby’s citizenship is only worth anything to the baby. With chain migration, it has value to the baby’s entire extended family. Chain migration for anything other than spouse and children is anyway a terrible idea. We should select foreigners for settlement on the basis that they will add something desirable to our country, not on the basis that they are somebody’s parent or sibling. In a given year, two-thirds of settlement visas are issued to people who have no other claim but that they are related to a citizen. That’s a really stupid way to select immigrants.

If you stop chain migration, obstetric tourism loses most of its point, and illegal immigration becomes somewhat less attractive. It can be done by law — no Constitutional amendment required.

Also by law, we could insist that if anyone here illegally has a baby in a U.S. hospital, she and the baby should be deported as soon as they are fit to travel.

Best of all, of course, would be not to let illegals settle here in the first place. For that, we don’t even need new laws: illegal immigration is already illegal. Just enforce the people’s laws.

This is one of those issues, though, where policy wonks, who’ve been kicking it around for years, may have trouble in correctly gauging the feelings of the general public, most of whom just heard of it. When Katie Couric speaks in tones of mild reproof about anchor babies, something is happening.