Our Frivolous Approach to Citizenship

by Mark Krikorian

My colleague Jon Feere has a new piece on birthright citizenship — not for children born to illegal aliens or tourists, but children born to foreign diplomats.

The one thing everyone in the birthright citizenship debate agrees on is that the 14th Amendment clause that reads “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” means that children born to the representatives of foreign governments are not U.S. citizens, because their diplomatic immunity means they are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

Well, Feere asked, what’s stopping them from being citizens? So, he exercised the super-secret powers available only to think tanks to find out — he called the relevant agencies on the phone and asked what prevented the children born to diplomats from claiming citizenship by virtue of birth in the United States.

The answer? Nothing. The National Center for Health Statistics standards for birth certificates don’t even suggest a box to check if you’re a diplomat; no state issues birth certificates to the children of diplomats that say, for instance, “Not for Establishing U.S. Citizenship”; the Social Security Administration issues SSNs to anyone who checks the box on the birth certificate application; and even the State Department has pulled its clear statement that diplomatic immunity precludes birthright citizenship because new language is “under development.” If there is nothing stopping a diplomat’s kid from using his U.S. birth certificate to get an Social Security number, a driver’s license, a voter registration card, and a passport — all legally — then he is a U.S. citizen. Apparently, outlining the boundaries of U.S. citizenship is important enough to include in the Constitution, but not important enough to actually do anything about.

The point here is not numbers. The immigration lawyer interviewed in the foxnews.com story on the report is likely right that the number of people involved is small — though it’s not trivial, especially around Washington and New York. Rather, the question is this — does “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” mean anything or is it a dead letter, like the 10th Amendment? If it’s meaningless, then let the defenders of truly universal birthright citizenship have the courage of their convictions and say so. If not, then we’ve accepted the principle that there are limitations to accessing U.S. citizenship, and we’re simply haggling over the price.

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