The Corner

Birthright Citizenship

Lots of response to my Lindsey Graham/birthright citizenship post, most of it disagreeing with me (politely) and agreeing with Graham (as uncomfortable as most readers were about doing so!). This from someone who’s dealt with the problem:

As somebody who has worked in the immigration arena as a USG employee, despite often not agreeing with your solutions, I appreciate and respect your knowledge of many of the challenges, issues, and downright stupidity of our immigration approach.

With respect to your post on birthright citizenship, although I don’t necessarily agree, I won’t quibble with your overall point. That said, I’m not sure you realize how widespread this problem is — perhaps not in sheer numbers relative to overall illegal immigration — and the threat it presents for our country.

As somebody who has adjudicated over 30,000 nonimmigrant visas in Latin America, the Middle East, and West Africa, I can assure you that this is a problem everywhere in the world. There are vast, vast numbers of women traveling to the U.S. solely to obtain citizenship for her child. It serves as a huge magnet and does us great harm (economically, national security, etc.)  In many of these cases, these women have absolutely no connection whatsoever to the U.S. In the worst of cases, these children become true threats to our country. While serving at a post in the Middle East (in a country where American diplomats have been killed in cold blood by terrorists), I came across countless cases of teenagers and young men (and women) who carried a U.S. passport but had never been in the U.S. outside of the 6 weeks they spent on our soil right after being born. One can easily imagine the threat this poses to our country.

But aside from that, respectfully, your recommended solution to the very large problem of birthright citizenship is way too simplistic and simply impractical.

Nor does the problem of “birth tourism” require a change in the Constitution — we just need to permit (and require) our consular officers to reject visa applications from pregnant women, inviting them to re-apply once they’ve given birth in their own countries.

To be blunt, short of bloodtesting every female visa applicant of child-bearing age, how exactly are officers to determine that a woman is pregnant? In very few cases was I able to clearly tell a woman was pregnant. Most times, the woman already has a valid visa before getting pregnant, applies for a visa in the early months of her pregnancy, or is easily able to conceal it (think West Africa where the traditional dress makes this very simple to do). Not once did a woman come in and tell me that she was going to the U.S. specifically to have a child.

The current reality is that many officers are so sick of the constant barrage of women traveling to the U.S. to drop a B1/B2 baby [B1/B2 are the designations for the business traveler and tourist visas. —MK] that they indeed refuse solely on the suspicion that an applicant is traveling to drop a baby, or they follow the regs to the letter of the law and hold their nose before issuing to otherwise qualified applicants.

The only solution to this problem is to modify the Constitution. To put it simply, it’s sheer madness that we continue to grant citizenship on the basis of the place of birth. It makes absolutely no sense in today’s world, and does nothing but create very significant problems for our country.

I applaud anybody who is serious about putting a stop to this.

I agree with the writer that only blood tests could ensure that pregnant women don’t get visas, but I’d like to start with smaller solutions (like asking about pregnancy on the visa application and requiring the visa officer and/or the airport inspector to reject those who are pregnant) and see if they work first, before moving on to amend the Constitution.

And then this from someone with a different kind of relevant experience:

Even though I think the people of South Carolina deserve better than Sen. Graham, I don’t believe he’s wrong at this point.  With the borders wide open and judges ruling as Bolton did yesterday, it may become moot, but my experience as a obstetrician in residency training in the late 70s gave me a taste of what hasn’t likely improved for the better.

I was training in a military medical center in El Paso and for a short time we rotated night-time call at the city/county hospital with their own residents. It became clear that a fair minority of the deliveries were women crossing the border just to have their babies in the US. Note this is not coming across to receive prenatal care during the pregnancy, but to cross the border when labor began and to show up in active labor so they couldn’t be sent out undelivered. It was done to obtain a US birth certificate. It was not rare to have a baby and mother arrive for care post-delivery with the delivery occurring in the car while awaiting border crossing. At that time, at least, the lines from Mexico to the US were usually quite long. This was a common enough phenomenon for it to be a source of in-house humor, “they didn’t quite make it with this one” type comments.

I haven’t practiced in a border city since residency but would doubt it’s better. There are many facilities or practitioners in those border facilities who, I’m sure, could give you a more updated idea of the scope. Or perhaps, we’re now to the point we don’t even record for data retrieval those who are foreign nationals in issuing their US born infant a birth certificate. It would be of interest for you to do a followup after looking into this in more detail.

I got several e-mails from/about El Paso, and I’m sure they’re all correct, but again, the problem here is either people sneaking across the border illegally (who need to be stopped through better enforcement) or people entering legally on Border Crossing Cards (so-called “laser visas,” which allow short visits to the U.S. for Mexicans living in border towns). Considering that about half the population of Mexico’s border states have such cards, and they are widely used for smuggling (as well as birth tourism), the BCC itself should be abolished. Again, a less radical, more conservative solution than changing the Constitution.

And finally this:

Our daughter is an OB/GYN Doc here in Texas. You are correct in that citizenship for illegal’s babies is a symptom of the problem, but it is a real incentive for illegals to come and stay in this country. A couple of anecdotes. A few years ago an illegal walks into the ER on my daughter’s night on call. Mother (of 8 at the time) is in distress, as is the baby at 5 or 6 months. Have to put the mother in the hospital on bedrest for the rest of her pregnancy. Due to good care from our daughter and the hospital nurses, plus entire time in hospital, mother delivers 9th healthy baby a few months later. Disappears, walking out on tens of thousands of dollars, if not a couple hundred thousand, of doctor and hospital bills. Hospital is stiffed, our daughter is stiffed and of course the 9th US citizen is born . . .

I guess my point is I am somewhat in favor of not granting citizenship to the children of illegals, but really prefer sealing the border. If an illegal isn’t here, the citizenship issue isn’t an issue. I fear Graham’s bill is just a grandstand play to pump up his bona fides and not driven by any strong conviction—given his waffling/consorting with the Dem’s on so many other liberal issues. The illegal’s baby citizenship issue is just another bit of smokescreen to hide the real problem and NOT get serious about controlling our borders.

This is exactly my point, though expressed better and more concisely than I did.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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