Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers' thoughts on the birthright citizenship debate

Photo by johnwilliamsphd/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over the weekend, NPR featured a post that summarized a series on the birthright citizenship battle that appeared recently on Multi-American. The response from readers since has been phenomenal, with a long string of informed, if impassioned, comments.

The issue of birthright citizenship - and the goal of some legislators to deny it to children of undocumented immigrants - is at the center of the immigration debate at the moment. Last night, two anti-birthright citizenship bills introduced in the Arizona Senate last month were pulled by their sponsor after they failed to win enough support in a committee hearing. But the debate over who should be a U.S. citizen continues to thrive, with a spate of bills pending in Congress and in the states, including an Arizona House bill that has yet to be heard and most recently a state measure proposed in Montana.

Topics that came up in the discussion on Multi-American ranged from unemployment to European citizenship policies to how the parents of Wong Kim Ark, a Chinese American man whose 1895 legal challenge led to how birthright citizenship is interpreted under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, were here legally (technically, since at the time he was born, exclusionary immigration laws to keep them out were not yet in place).

Here are a few highlights:

Svenjuice wrote:

Who cares if illegals cross the border to have their babies or if they'd been here for a while? With 9% unemployment and municipal budgets in crisis, we can't have it. If things are so bad back in their home countries, then I support helping them in those countries...but not here. The U.S. is not the relief valve for the population virus in the third world where families of 8 or more are terrifyingly common.

Steven Kerens wrote:
The comment that Pew found that "90 percent of the undocumented parents who had babies in the United States over a one-year period ending last March had been here several years already..." establishes that either the progenitors of these anti-immigrant pieces of legislation are extraordinarily ignorant by not knowing this this data, or use the few cases (the 10%) as a stalking horse to pushing an outright racist agenda. At best they do not want to allow the facts to get in the way of their beliefs and at worst they want to create a public perception that our country is overrun by pregnant Latinos swimming the Rio Grande in the 8th month of their pregnancy.

Connie wrote:
I would be very intersted to know if the framers of the 14th Amendment to the constitution after the Civil War had any idea that people immigrating to the US ILLEGALLY would become such a large problem. As I read the amendment and think about the slaves and many, many legal immigrants to our country, it makes sense that their children should be citizens of the country. What is so different here is when people come to the country ILLEGALLY, breaking the law in crossing the border without a valid VISA (and generally accompanied by a "wait your turn" kind of system), should these children be considered LEGAL citizens? I don't think so...
What I think is broken is our system for allowing the appropriate number of people to come in to the country legally. If indeed businesses need more workers who are willing to do jobs that others do not choose to do, then we should be allowing immigrants to enter legally, then the status of their children would not be a problem. If someone enters illegally, they should not (be) allowed to work. If there was no economic incentive to come, people would not be crossing the border in large numbers.

Italy has a similar law to the one proposed. It has had terrible effect. There are currently thousands of young people who were born and raised in the country of their birth (Italy), but they are not recognized as Italian citizens. They know nothing of their parents' home country, its customs, language even. That makes them people who have no country. They think of themselves as Italian and in every visible way they are, yet legally, they are not! Is this what we want to inflict on US born people? Have we no heart?

While the author makes the point that Wong Kim Ark was born here she fails to point out that his parents were here by way of Treaty when he was born, thus his parents were "domiciled" here (as noted in the court decision - legal residents in today's term). She also fails to point out the Nationality Act of 1870, which "limits American citizenship to "white persons and persons of African descent," barring Asians from U.S. citizenship." (NOTE: the word Citizenship for barring Asians, this did not bar them from being here, it limited them to only Legal Residency/legally "domiciled" here).

Liquidmicro points out correctly that Wong's parents were technically here legally, as Wong was born before the restrictions on new Chinese arrivals under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act kicked in. However, they were not truly "legal residents" in today's terms, where there is a set process undertaken in order to arrive legally and obtain legal residency, rather simply because there were yet no laws to keep them out.

This reader also had some interesting rebuttals to the legal arguments presented by readers Domingo and Cristi in response to a previous post, which I highlighted last week.