There’s More to Birthright Citizenship Than You Think

by Mark Krikorian

The debate over birthright citizenship has focused on children born here to illegal aliens. Admittedly, this is a big deal, with more than 300,000 births a year to illegal-immigrants mothers, though I’m on record as skeptical that changing our citizenship rules should be a high-priority objective for immigration hawks.

But there’s a whole other part of the problem — children born here to legal, but temporary, visitors. Not green card holders, who as permanent residents are best seen as candidate-members of the American people and whose children should definitely be citizens at birth. The issue, rather, is about “non-immigrants,” foreigners here temporarily as tourists, students, workers, whatever. In this regard, the issue of birth tourism has gotten attention lately, as has the citizenship status of terrorists like Anwar al-Awlaki and Yaser Esam Hamdi, both born in the U.S. to visitors but raised entirely abroad, who’ve tried to use their nominal citizenship to protect themselves from justice.

But the number of such people never seemed likely to be that large, so what was the big deal? Well, a new CIS report by a pseudonymous government employee with extensive knowledge of such matters estimates that nearly 200,000 people are born each year in the United States to “non-immigrants” — i.e., foreigners here on some kind of temporary status. We have a piece upcoming on possible solutions, many of which wouldn’t require changing our interpretation of the Constitution, but the first decision policymakers face is whether they think it’s a good idea to give away United States citizenship promiscuously to any child born here to a Latvian tourist or Japanese student or a Mexican Border-Crossing Card holder, who then promptly leaves and raises the child in a foreign country.