Monday, August 09, 2010

Good for the Citizenship Goose

The latest craze in Political Wedge Issues is amending the 14th amendment's pesky loophole about not having to work any harder for U.S. citizenship than getting expelled from a birth canal in the right place (legally known as jus soli, or right of the soil). We should have seen this coming; when the economy tanks, people look for any reason they can glom on to for the protracted pain of being out of work involuntarily. Plus, more people have a lot more time on their hands to indulge in xenophobia.

This time, the xenophobia lands on the neonatal population. Apparently, in the world where the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham live, heavily pregnant women risk traversing the desert on the U.S.-Mexican border in August for the sole purpose of "dropping a baby" (which has now gone from an indication of bad grip to a euphemism for birth) who can, two decades hence, sponsor the parents for citizenship. I have never been pregnant, so I can't speak to how likely women in the third trimester are to go for a hike in the desert. If one believes Exodus, the Hebrews managed the feat en masse, but I suspect that it's not the sort of thing modern obstetricians recommend, due to the increased risk of stillbirth that would make the whole exercise rather pointless. Part of me wants to think that if there are that many Mexican women with that kind of physical fortitude and foresight, maybe having them here and passing that determination on to offspring wouldn't be all bad.

Perhaps the stupidest argument I've heard in favor of this proposal is that the 14th amendment doesn't actually need amended to suspend automatic birthright citizenship. According to the proponents of this strategy, since the 14th amendment starts off with "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," but parents in the U.S. illegally aren't "subject to the jurisdiction," the kids aren't citizens. In a word, hogwash. Whose jurisdiction are these folks under, if not that of where they are located? The fact that the proponents of this refer to the parents as "illegal" ought to nullify that argument right off the bat. They're illegal under the laws and jurisdiction of the U.S.; were they not subject to U.S. laws, they would not be illegal. That exemption for people who aren't under the jurisdiction of the U.S. applies primarily to diplomats, who are, in fact, not subject to U.S. laws while on U.S. soil.

Moreover, I would be interested in finding out how many of the people who advocate the revocation of birthright citizenship would be able to prove their own citizenship to the standards they advocate. Estimates from the State Department in 2007 indicated that only 27% of Americans hold a passport, and the percentage is only that high because of new rules requiring a passport to go to Canada or the Bahamas. I'm among that 27%, and I also have a certified copy of my birth certificate indicating that I was born in the U.S., only a couple hundred miles up the highway from a popular border crossing, which I suppose is suspect. Of course, with a revocation of jus soli, a birth certificate isn't enough to prove citizenship, not that a certain segment of the population accepts birth certificates as definitive proof of citizenship even with jus soli in place.

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