The Corner

Immigration

DACA vs. Birth Tourism: Who’s ‘More’ American?

Naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

While on the campaign trail last week, Joe Biden spoke about the illegal immigrants who came here as minors and later were given work permits under what President Obama dubbed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Biden supported giving them green cards (“put on a path to citizenship”), which is a standard position for Democratic candidates — and widely supported, with important caveats, by many Republican politicians and, indeed, much of the public (myself included).

But Biden couldn’t leave it at that. Gilding the lily, he said: “In many cases, they’re more American than most Americans are because they have done well in school. They believe the basic principles that we all share.”

Aside from the factual error — whatever the arguments for DACA, its beneficiaries have not done especially well in school — Biden’s comments highlight the xenomania and national self-loathing so characteristic of the left. The only way to interpret his comment is that he thinks natural-born Americans who haven’t done well in school and/or who don’t hold whatever basic principles Biden has in mind are less American than “many” illegal aliens who came here before age 16.

This opens a can of worms that the Left, in particular, should beware of. The gang that rejects the Founders, is disgusted by our history, and wants to fundamentally transform the nation should probably avoid infusing political debate with assessments of who’s “more” or “less” American. In a heterogeneous country such as ours, there needs to be a single legal bright line for membership in the polity — U.S. citizenship. If you’re a citizen, you’re an American, one of “us”; if not, not.

Interestingly, the same folks who commend illegal immigrants as more American than the rest of us also decry last week’s new regulation designed to limit birth tourism. That phenomenon, remember, involves pregnant women from abroad coming here for the sole purpose of exploiting our birthright citizenship rules to secure U.S. citizenship for their newborns, whom they then take back to their home country to be raised. Those children (estimated to number 33,000 a year) have U.S. citizenship — i.e., are Americans — and yet have no tie to the United States, speak no English, and are not socialized as Americans in any way.

So who’s more American — the illegal alien who grew up here or the U.S.-citizen child of a birth tourist who was raised in every respect as a foreigner? Culturally, the illegal alien who grew up here is clearly “more American” than someone born here to a tourist but who lived in Taiwan for the first 15 years of her life. But citizenship needs to be the bright line, if we are to avoid Yugoslavia.

Of course, there’s a strong prudential argument to be made for aligning legal and cultural American-ness as much as possible. This is precisely why birth tourism is such an outrage. And it’s also why legalizing illegal immigrants whose emotional and psychological development has taken place entirely in the United States (in other words, they’ve lived here from, say, age three or five, not 15) is a good idea — provided it can be done in such a way as not to incentivize additional illegal immigration by, for instance, tightening enforcement and forever prohibiting the legalization of the parents.

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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