The Corner

Immigration

Yes, Babies of Americans ‘Deserve’ U.S. Citizenship

A migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the United States, throws her baby in the air in Tijuana, Mexico, November 28, 2018. (Hannah McKay/REUTERS)

This post is outside of my usual portfolio, but I am steamed.

Michelle Anderson, a civil-rights lawyer and recently made New York Times leftwing columnist, claims that babies born of American parents no more “deserve” U.S. citizenship than so-called “anchor babies,” infants born here of alien parents who are deemed citizens because of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Anderson focuses on the recent episode of a baby born to Maryury Elizabeth Serrano-Hernandez, an illegal alien who was part of “the Caravan” and scaled the border wall a few hours before giving birth on American soil. Legalities aside, Anderson says, Serrano-Hernandez’s baby is as morally entitled to citizenship as any infant born of American parents. From, “None of Us Deserve Citizenship”:

None of us born here did anything to deserve our citizenship. On what moral grounds can we deny others rights, privileges and opportunities that we did not earn ourselves?

She repeats the theme deeper in the piece:

Reaching for a radically more humane immigration system…does require a certain measure of humility on the part of those of us who have benefited from birthright citizenship. Rather than viewing immigrants as seeking something that we, Americans, have a moral right to withhold from them, we ought to begin by acknowledging that none of us who were born here did anything to deserve our citizenship, and yet all of us — no matter where we were born — deserve compassion and basic human rights.

Anderson writes that we are free and prosperous only because of the domestic and international evils we have perpetrated since we began. In other words, we broke the world, and so we owe the world. Hence:

What was Ms. Serrano-Hernandez doing if not pursuing life, liberty and happiness for herself and her family? Did she not display a level of courage, fortitude and determination to win freedom for herself and those she loved comparable to that of those who helped birth our nation?

This is not only sophistry, but I believe Anderson intentionally deflects from the essential point.

I most certainly did  “deserve” U.S. citizenship as a baby of Americans because my forebears earned it for me through the multitudinous sacrifices and contributions they made to benefit this country and their posterity.

My maternal grandmother epitomized the American dream. She immigrated legally in 1910 at age 16 from Italy. She soon married my grandfather, another Italian immigrant, who died suddenly when my mother and uncle were young children, requiring her to work without letup to support them. As I received my law-school diploma, Grandma — all four feet, ten inches of her — stood up, so proud to have gone from being a stranger in America, to raising a son and daughter who made good and decent lives, and then beaming as her only grandson entered a learned profession.

On my father’s side, I go back to the French Huguenots. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill. Family legend has it I am related to John Brown — of whom I am both proud (absolute Abolitionist) and ashamed (terrorist). My great, great grandfather was the longest surviving original member of the Republican party, which I only learned from material discovered in my paternal grandmother’s Bible when she died.

My father fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and was awarded a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor. After he was blown up by a Japanese mortar shell, he turned down a Purple Heart because he didn’t want to worry my mother — who didn’t even see her new husband from April 1942 until October 45! When he came home completely changed by the horrors of war, they had to forge their relationship anew. Dad was called back into service during the Korean War and became an atomic veteran, dying of cancer eventually for his country.

Anderson is African-American. I don’t know anything about her ancestral history. If she is descended from slaves, they purchased her entitlement to citizenship through every drop of sweat wrenched evilly from their brows. So did any of her forebears who lived through, and may have struggled against, systemic racism and otherwise bestowed upon this country the incalculable contributions that good citizens provide. I will bet that if we could go back in time and ask them why, they would say they did it for her.

Most American citizens have similar histories, whether their ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or they were naturalized last week. My point is that babies born to citizens are indeed “entitled” morally to citizenship for reasons that “birthright babies”– citizens solely because their mothers gave birth on U.S. soil — are not.

Yes, Serrano-Hernandez sacrificed to give her son a better life. That’s a mother’s love. But she didn’t sacrifice for the United States. Sneaking over the border to take advantage of our laws and compassion isn’t the same thing at all.

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