Immigration and Birthright Citizenship – What We Need to Do to Deal with It.

Let’s face it – this country is a disaster on so many fronts. The government finally woke up out of its century-and-a-half-long slumber to establish Juneteenth. Yes, slavery happened, and it lasted four centuries and this country was built on the back of slaves who had no rights. At one point, to calculate the number of people who lived in a state and allot the corresponding number of representatives, blacks counted as 3/5th of a human being. Then, as the nation expanded with the Louisiana Purchase, Manifest Destiny, and the Gold Rush, many new territories became free states, and perhaps the worst (among many) Supreme Court decisions ever came down, showing where the government stood on the issue of birthright citizenship.

With Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court dealt with the issue of who is entitled to citizenship. Believe it or not, the Court determined that blacks, even those born in a United States territory, were not entitled to citizenship, including children of slaves. In other words, the right to citizenship to which ALL people born on U.S. soil were entitled did not apply to slaves born on the same soil just because they were enslaved blacks, yet another wrinkle in the four-century oppression of an entire race. In order to “make up” for this unthinkable decision, Congress amended the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 and extended birthright citizenship to everyone “not subject to any foreign power, excluding [Native people who are] not taxed.” once again, using ambiguous language, but allowing all blacks born in the U.S. to be considered citizens.

So how has this same principle, in place after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, affected immigrants? Ironically, millions of people since then have taken advantage of this blanket granting of U.S. citizenship, either entering the U.S. legally (with visas or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or illegally (mostly through the porous U.S.-Mexico border). They have disrespected U.S. immigration laws, very often with the plan of having their children born in the U.S. so that they could become U.S. citizens immediately. This is derogatorily called, in some instances, “birth tourism”, i.e. when pregnant women travel to the U.S. or other countries to get their children automatic citizenship. This issue has again arisen recently in the media with Donald Trump’s new campaign launch, where he has stated that he wants birthright citizenship to be denied to children of illegal aliens.

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I know how arduous the path to citizenship can be. I don’t remember the exact legal steps because it was something I went through since I was 5 until I was 14, and then I finally took the oath of citizenship. However, I remember not understanding why it took so long. Based on this and my 20+ years of helping hundreds of people become U.S. citizens legally, I can say that I agree with Mr. Trump: people should not be rewarded for bending or breaking the immigration laws that govern our country, and that includes coming to the U.S illegally and/or having the ultimate intention of giving birth to a child so that they can become instant citizens (only to leave the country afterward when they supposedly entered for another purpose, usually tourism).

Mr. Trump is resolved to curb both of these situations and not allow the law to be abused by children of illegal immigrants or babies born under the guise of tourism. The idea of banning this instant citizenship based on birth on U.S. soil is deterrence, i.e. to dissuade people from coming to have children here, thereby earning the rights and privileges of many who, like me, came in legally, went through one if not several different immigration processes, and then had to take a citizenship test and pass it to have the same privileges and rights that birthright citizens have.

With the Biden administration sending mixed signals and managing the borders with a mixed bag of contradictory policies, illegal immigration to the U.S. has proliferated recently. As someone who advocates for LEGAL immigration, I believe that this is yet another issue that has to be resolved through comprehensive immigration reform. Since birthright citizenship is entrenched in the 14th Amendment, it would need to be amended by Congressional action to take full effect and this is an uphill climb. Just as we need to further protect the borders to minimize illegal immigration, we also need to make comprehensive immigration reform which includes a logical, transparent, and fair way to handle immigration at the borders. Lastly, we need to have Congress prioritize these issues by getting sufficient funds to strengthen the borders, properly processing individuals applying for asylum, and discouraging birth tourism and the birthright citizenship of those children whose parents did not comply with the law (i.e. anyone who is not officially applying for asylum or awaiting some other legal immigration remedy when their children are born.) It is time for a real overhaul of the system to reward those who abide by the law and punish those who don’t.