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Citizenship should be about inclusion, not exclusion

Irene Bloemraad, professor of sociology | August 26, 2010

About half of all children 18 years and younger in California have at least one immigrant parent.

Consider the implications of this astounding statistic in light of the summer’s political posturing about the 14th Amendment.

This Amendment, written into the Constitution in the wake of the Civil War, declares that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States”. Politicians who want to appear tough on immigration are using calls to revise the 14th Amendment as another prong in the pitchfork they would like to use to push immigrants out of the country.

Imagine that they actually succeed and the United States eliminates birthright citizenship. Pushed to an extreme, this could mean that half the students in California’s schools would be foreigners in the country where they were born, grew up and go to school.

This summer’s political and media debate about immigration has focused exclusively on enforcement and exclusion. But what about inclusion and integration? Those who would change the 14th Amendment don’t discuss the implications for our ability to harness the skills and energies of our youngest citizens.

Would youngsters who are declared foreigners at birth invest as much in this country as they do now knowing they are citizens? What are the long-term implications of transferring the current anti-immigrant climate, directed at these youngsters’ parents, to the next generation?

The question is not just hypothetical. We have strong evidence about the integrative power of the 14th Amendment. From 1882 to 1952, U.S. Congress and courts enforced race-based restrictions on U.S. citizenship. At their height, almost no immigrant from Asia could legally naturalize to become a citizen.

Fear of the “yellow peril” was rampant in places like California. Various politicians and citizen groups also wanted to deny citizenship to the US-born children of Asian immigrants. In 1898 the Supreme Court, referring to the 14th Amendment, said that they couldn’t do this.

Today, these children—and their children and grandchildren—are among the most highly educated residents of California. They’ve served in the armed forces, started small businesses and multi-million dollar corporations, worked in public service, competed in the Olympics and added their creativity and vision to the arts and cultural landscape of the nation.

Imagine a world where these people couldn’t proudly proclaim that they are American, but instead where they were a permanent underclass of foreigners. Is that the sort of future we want?

Comments to “Citizenship should be about inclusion, not exclusion

  1. Irene:
    How convoluted that you might interpret the fourteenth amendment to include the all inclusive argument for immigration.Have you been living in a vacuum, wow [bankruptcy inclusive]lets let everyone come to America,maybe some B1 visa teacher can apply for your job,or maybe you volunteer to have your wages lowered so some immigrant can have a better standard of living by your benevolence.Now thats what I call the courage of your convictions.If you are sure what you said is what you meant.

  2. Goodnight Irene,

    Sorry…I couldn’t resist.

    This debate is being framed incorrectly. Repeal of the section of the 14th amendment relevant to citizenship via birth in this country is patently ridiculous and completely unnecessary to deal with the real issue (which you have also completely sidestepped).

    A New York Times article of 8/11 (this year) cites a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, indicating that 8 percent of births in the U.S. in 2008 were to parents of whom at least 1 was an illegal immigrant.

    Problem # 1 with this statistic, is that it does not indicate how many of these births were to parents of whom BOTH were illegal immigrants. This is the only statistic of this kind that matters. If either of the parents are here legally, then there should be no question, that the child should be a citizen of this country.

    Even if both parents are here illegaly, the child should still be a citizen of the U.S.

    The real question, is what to do with this child between birth and such time as they are considered a ‘legal’ adult in most states (usually 18).

    Dealing with this question (and the parents illegal presence here) is the real issue that I do not find being addressed by the mis-guided ideologues on both sides of the progressive/conservative divide.

    Instead, they throw around extreme solutions which neither side will ever find any middle ground to agree on (e.g. Repeal the 14th amendment).

    The answer may be a difficult one to swallow, but it’s not rocket science.

    1. If both parents are identifiable and here illegaly, they are offered a choice (provided ICE has even identified them)…(a) the child returns with them to their country of origin with a valid birth certificate. At age 18, they visit the U.S. Embassy in that country, present the birth certificate (which the Embassy verifies) and are issued a U.S. Passport and are then free to return to the U.S. if they wish. (b) The parents arrange for a legal guardian (a legal U.S. citizen, etc.) and relinquish care of the child to this guardian so they may be raised here (they, of course, must return to their country of origin)

    2. If only 1 parent is identifiable and here illegaly, the above applies in the same manner.

    3. As I mentioned earlier, if either parent (not just the mother), is a legal resident/citizen, they can choose where the child will be raised (here or there), but the parent who is here illegally must be treated as such. If the child returns to the parent’s country of origin, they may return at any time to live with or be raised by the legal parent here. In either case, they are still a U.S. citizen, but they should be issued a U.S. Passport, so they may return to the U.S. with no problems.

    I strongly suspect that any/all of the above measures, do not necessarily require any modification of the Constitution and may not even require legislative action on the part of the U.S. Congress (although it would be desireable to have such occur, as it would give more weight to the authority of the regulating body).

    So many people are wrong-headedly making philsophical, moral and sociological arguments, when what is needed are practical and common-sense centrist solutions. This is NOT about immigrants….it’s about ILLEGAL immigrants.

    I challenge you to present the above solution to one of your freshman or sophomore level classes and see how they respond. It may surprise you to see the response of those who do not have the level of intellectual and academic baggage that might be serving as muddied filter for your opinions.


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