Friday, July 9, 2010

Citizenship Clause

Citizenship and immigration has been front and center recently in terms of issues of relative importance to the polity. One of the meanest spirited attacks from lawmakers out of Arizona, which seems to be the galvanizing locale for such xenophobic opinion, is a desire to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: "Section 1. 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."

On the surface, it appears that any individual, born within the borders or in the territories of the United States, is automatically entitled to citizenship.

Not so fast.

Read it again, carefully.

"...and subject to the jurisdiction thereof..."

Ah, the money quote.

The Supreme Court ruled in Wong Kim Ark that under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a man born within the United States to foreigners (in that case, Chinese citizens) who have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States and are carrying on business in the United States and who were not employed in a diplomatic or other official capacity by a foreign power, was a citizen of the United States.

Note the conditions of the precedent: the parents had a permanent domicile and were carrying on business in the United States. They were here legally, and thus were subject to the jurisdiction of the United States of America.

In the case of an illegal alien, I think, as a lay person, it's entirely reasonable to doubt whether a person here illegally is "subject to the jurisdiction..."

The path forward for Ariz. Senator Russell may be instead to frame the law in those terms. "Be it resolved, that a person or persons, who is present in the United States through false or illegal methods, cannot and shall not be considered to be subject to the jurisdiction of the United States."

The upshot would be to invalidate the children of such persons from automatic citizenship if they happen to be born here.

In the case of children who are older, who are socialized culturally to the United States, they could be considered to be "naturalized" in the common if not the legal, meaning of the word.

Most folks who know me know me as a liberal. However, I'm not so liberal as to want to give the country away, and I am contemptuous of those on the Left who seem to hold this position. Let me have it.

1 comment:

Steve Will said...

I won't "let you have it" in this case, Michael.

As is so often the case when the strong left and the strong right fight, I just feel like giving both sides some taffy, and while they are chewing say "It's not that simple."

The Constitution is the foundation for issues such as this, but I don't know any of the related rulings or upheld laws, so thanks for a reference.

Since being an "illegal alien" is "illegal" it seems there should be some way for law enforcement to reasonably discover if someone is illegal. I don't know if the Arizona law goes too far or not -- I haven't seen the details, and I suspect I would not "get" the whole thing.

Anyway, I don't feel like the intent of the Constitution was for babies to get a free pass if their parents just happened to be in Topeka, or Mesa, or Ft. Lauderdale, or Honolulu when the kid is born. Personally, I don't mind if they DO get citizenship for that, as long as it doesn't "grandfather" in the parents.

But maybe I just gave up my liberal credentials... :-)