So now we have a second Republican Senator calling for the “revoking” of birthright citizenship in the U.S.– in other words another GOP luminary who wants to copy progressive places such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, countries that deny citizenship — and even birth certificates — to tens of thousands of children born to foreign workers, rendering them stateless and vulnerable and at risk of a life of official non-existence.
That was the policy Germany followed until 1999, when German law was modified finally to recognize the principle of jus soli (“the right of soil”), replacing the blood connection principle that German citizenship required previously.
Before the modification, children of foreign-born workers in Germany also were rendered stateless – the law hit particularly hard the children born to hundreds of thousands of immigrant Turkish workers and did nothing to assist in integration or the calming of roiled race relations in post-War Germany. Of course, the German neo-Nazi and Aryan fantasists opposed vociferously the change in the law.
Is this German experience what Senators Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham want to repeat in the U.S.? And are they really content to follow the examples of the Kuwaitis and the Saudis?
I doubt the GOP lawmakers who are pushing for the amending/changing of the 14th amendment – nor for that matter Fox talk-show host Glenn Beck and conservative columnist George Will – are even aware of who they are aligning with overseas when it comes to citizenship rights. American Exceptionalism for them seems to be more of a matter of ignoring the rest of the World and not learning from the mistakes of others. Just bury your head in the sand and look like an oaf.
According to Will, a writer who normally thinks the Constitution should be untouchable, the 14th amendment would never have been passed “If those who wrote and ratified the 14th Amendment had imagined laws restricting immigration — and had anticipated huge waves of illegal immigration.” He added in a column published last March: “Is it reasonable to presume they would have wanted to provide the reward of citizenship to the children of the violators of those laws? Surely not.”
It is odd for Will to apply “common sense” when it comes to the interpretation of the Constitution – it isn’t something he cites when arguing about gun rights, for example. But his history is a tad off: there was mass immigration in the 1860s when the amendment was written and adopted and there was tremendous nativist opposition to the new wave of immigration. So it isn’t at all clear that Will’s presumption is, in fact, at all reasonable.
He rests much of his argument on the writings of Professor Lino Graglia of the University of Texas law school, who maintains that an 1884 Supreme Court decision about children born to Native American parents established that “no one can become a citizen of a nation without its consent.” Well, that is pretty obvious — and the 14th amendment grants birthright citizenship.
But in a law review article, Graglia argues:
“This would clearly settle the question of birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens. There cannot be a more total or forceful denial of consent to a person’s citizenship than to make the source of that person’s presence in the nation illegal.”
And so Will concludes triumphantly:
“There is no constitutional impediment to Congress ending the granting of birthright citizenship to those whose presence here is not only without the government’s consent but in violation of its law.”
But there is a big problem with that jump. While the mother may have been in the U.S. illegally – the child has not, unless that is we are going to start demanding passports and visas for babies carried in the womb!
Jesuitical argumentation aside, most sensible nations grant birthright citizenship and they do so because they believe that the idea that a child may be rendered stateless otherwise an appalling idea. But, of course, what is more important in the birthright citizenship debate prompted by some on the American right has more to do with electoral and internal GOP politics than anything else.
The Tea Party and Glenn Beck say jump and the conservatives within the Party ask “how high?” And the more they press on this anti-immigrant front they become the darlings of the far right reaches of America but the further they kick away from the centre – and as the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater would always tell you, the centre is where you win elections.
Jamie Dettmer is a former political writer at The Times and Sunday Telegraph. This article originally appeared at http://www.jamiedettmer.com.