This post is in response to a question raised by our fellow alum and master educator (not kidding – he’s won an award for his teaching – belated congrats Prof!) MikeB. The question posed was:
“…[W]ould you consider ending ‘birthright citizenship?’”
It’s a great question because how a person becomes a citizen has become a matter of interpretation instead of the many laws as written. And, even as written, the law has been further changed to include different groups, jurisprudence, and political objectives. Unfortunately, this muddying of the waters is intentional and has the effect of requiring people to make the decision to become criminals in the hope they will be absolved of their crimes decades in the future. Do criminals make good citizens, or is the purpose to create a class of serfs for our exploitation? Why are Americans okay with forcing people into moral and legal hazard?
I have a problem with that. Birthright citizenship is based on whether a person has at least one parent who is an American citizen, or upon location of birth. Location is defined as the US, its territories, coastal waters and airspace. Citizenship by parentage isn’t an issue, unless you’re Hillary Clinton’s mentor Sidney Blumenthal pushing Obama’s birthplace as a means of delegitimatizing the POTUS.
Most of my information will come from a Wikipedia article on the matter. There are essentially 6 status a person can have in the US: citizen, US national (with the rights but not the privileges such as voting), legal immigrant, legal visitor, illegal immigrant, and “Accidental Americans” whom the IRS designates for the purpose of collecting taxes and inflicting other terrors.
Birthright citizenship was ill-defined from the very beginning. The Constitution as originally approved is not clear, because citizenship was considered a function of location: if born in American territory, one was a citizen. If born in British-occupied territory, such as New York City, one was not a citizen. As America expanded westward, children were born outside the US to American parents, so the rules changed. The only immigrants not given citizenship were the forced immigrants – slaves from Africa.
Slaves descended from Africans were excluded. Free Blacks were included and considered citizens. Following the Civil War, the question of the citizenship of former slaves and children born to former slaves was answered by the 14th Amendment. This amendment was essentially America telling some of its citizens and states that we were serious about former slaves and their children being for-real American citizens.
But, even then the question of citizenship presented issues. In 1870 then-POTUS Grant signed the Expatriation law so that people can give up their citizenship (which today’s IRS and several states do not recognize as a valid law so they can continue collecting taxes). In 1924 Native Americans were given citizenship. In 1930 the law was changed again so that children born abroad to just one American parent were citizens. This law is what governs the citizenship of both Barack Obama and Ted Cruz: doesn’t matter where they were born or their fathers’ status, their mothers were Americans so Obama and Cruz are fully American.
No law is a law until the lawyers have interpreted it, so those laws mentioned above have gone through a number of trials. The current legal interpretation is like a mad mathematician’s formula: If, and, or, else, and, else, Then, else and else or therefore… With molasses-like clarity, citizenship by location becomes a matter of determining US and international law with regards to ‘what is the US?’
If a person is born in the territory of the US, which includes territorial waters (12 miles offshore), and airspace, except for American Samoa and Swain’s Island, the person is an American citizen. This includes Canadians born in the US, but who otherwise have never lived in the US, and their children. These folks become Accidental Americans – and if they ever enter the US they are criminals for not paying US taxes and subject to jail and a cash shake-down.
Citizenship by location gave rise to the practice of Birth Tourism: traveling to the US for the purpose of birthing a baby, who, upon reaching the age of 21, can then sponsor his parents and their families to immigrate to the US, cutting in line ahead of folks who play by the rules. This does not include babies born to legal visitors such as diplomats. The US isn’t the only country to set citizenship by location, but a number of nations have changed their rules in order to prevent making Birth Tourists into criminals.
Birth Tourists have to break more than one law in at least two if not more countries. It makes criminals of folks who seek a better life for themselves after 21 years. They are outside the law, so murders, rapes and other crimes can’t be reported unless the victim wishes to get deported. They are outside the law, so employers can set minimum wages at $0, or far less than that paid to citizens. So not only do we make criminals, we have a ready-made group of victims who can’t even seek redress, which gives rise to the commission of additional crimes in order to satisfy a form of justice.
The questions of citizenship need to be addressed comprehensively and should focus on parentage and intent instead of location. The current laws as interpreted by partisan lawyers are used to divide citizens and those who are going about becoming citizens legally. The result is criminalizing folks we want to be Americans, and accepting folks who will end up on death row, and leaving the country weaker, poorer, and divided.
My solution is to define citizenship by parent, to do away with “US nationals” as a legal status, and do away with “Accidental Americans” and bring the IRS and the states seeking tax revenue to heel so ex-pats and folks who don’t make their money in the US are preyed upon. As a minor point, the rich folks who keep their cash offshore amazingly have legal means to do so and the IRS licks their boots and sniffs after those who can’t afford to buy a POTUS or a suite of senators. So if the law doesn’t apply to all, it doesn’t apply to anyone. We’re Americans, not serfs. We hate serfdom and shouldn’t permit making non-citizens endure moral and legal hazards.