The Corner

With Friends Like These . . .

If you’re undecided on the issue of birthright citizenship, please, please do not read Linda Chavez’s new column on the subject. I say this as someone who agrees with her basic point that we should leave our citizenship policies alone, at least for now (my post yesterday generated 26 comments, almost all disagreeing with me). But Linda’s sneering column is so bad that I’m afraid it will push people the other way. She writes:

The language is unambiguous: “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.”

By “unambiguous,” of course, she actually means “ambiguous,” since the meaning of the “jurisdiction” part is not at all obvious and is the focus of the whole debate. She simply assumes her conclusion and then describes skeptics about automatic citizenship for children born to illegals (or to tourists) as “absurd,” “extremist,” “radical,” people who “make a mockery of the rule of law” and “so flagrantly disregard the rule of law.” (I assume she has an order in to the New York Times editorial page for additional epithets.)

In an earlier piece on the topic, she cited, as conclusive proof, the writing of lefty law professor (and former Washington Post reporter) Garrett Epps against conservative law professor (and former California AG candidate) John Eastman. (For a concise, layman’s overview of the issue, see this piece by my colleague Jon Feere.) Epps and Eastman each make plausible arguments, but my own, non-lawyer’s view is that it’s not obvious what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is supposed to mean in this instance — there was no illegal immigration in 1868, so even examining the congressional debate over the issue can’t really resolve it. We arrived at our current citizenship policy in this specific area unthinkingly, without any formal determination through legislation, judicial rulings, or executive orders — almost as a social custom — and so we can, if we choose, change it by reinterpreting that part of the 14th amendment. I think it’s unwise to do so at this time, but thanks to Linda Chavez’s efforts, ending birthright citizenship just got a leg up.

What’s more, she brings up the old “restrictionists are all population-control kooks” thing — though what’s really weird is when she writes that restrictionists:

are largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in now — the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, an outdated attempt at social engineering to restrict legal immigration to the United States.

I’m afraid I have no idea what this even means. IRCA was about illegal immigration exclusively — it amnestied long-term illegals in exchange for a first-ever ban on hiring illegals. Even if this was a slip and she meant “illegal” (which would be revealing in itself), what’s “outdated” or “social engineering” about it? The only thing I can figure is that in blaming IRCA as “largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in now,” she’s saying that the way you avoid having an illegal population is to not place limits on the importation of unskilled labor from abroad — i.e., open borders. If that’s so, then it would be nice for her to own up to it.


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