As a long-time critic of uncontrolled immigration, you’d expect me to have a simple take today. President Trump is taking on “birthright citizenship.” And that’s a good thing. Period.
In the end, I think it is, for both political and patriotic reasons. But we need to acknowledge the undertow.
There are things that bother us about changing this rule. We do ourselves no favors if we try to wish them away. They’re the root of the only good arguments which honest people offer in favor of birthright citizenship. And we want to convince honest people, whose emotions have misled them.
As Al Perrotta wrote here, the legal and Constitutional case is strong for ceasing to hand out citizenship to everyone born here. (For instance, babies whose moms were flying from Korea to Iceland, who gave birth on a layover in O’Hare Airport.)
Using Babies as Anchors, and Pawns
What is worse, immigration lawyers, leftist activists, and institutions dependent for their survival on mass immigration (i.e. many churches), have acted cynically for decades. They use the children born on U.S. soil to illegal immigrants as pawns in a legal game. Have an anchor baby, and you can’t be deported. Your child is now a citizen! What’s more, you’re eligible now for a long list of benefits — on his behalf, of course. And by the way, would you like to come to our next rally at the State capitol? Just so, open-borders zealots used the children smuggled into America by adults as a club to beat Donald Trump with. “You want to split up families? You heartless monster….”
Such cynicism does indeed devalue citizenship. It cheapens what should be a tie that binds us. As the brilliant Yoram Hazony writes (in a book I’ll soon review at length), citizenship is crucial. It’s the Golden Mean, the midpoint of allegiance between two unworkable extremes. Those are:
- Loyalty only to my family, friends, and members of my tribe (however I define that). And the rest of the world be damned. And:
- A vague, abstract, and meaningless “citizenship of the world.” This amounts to a warm, fuzzy feeling toward every person on the planet as an equally indistinguishable stranger. You “love mankind” in the same way that you want to “save the whales.”
We want white Republican suburbanites to feel a bond of fellow citizenship with inner-city black Democrats. We want it to be stronger than they feel toward, say, their distant cousins back in Norway. Nationalism based on citizenship isn’t evidence of racism. Done right, it’s the alternative, or even antidote, to racism. I remember watching the all-black U.S. Olympic basketball team play against the team of Croatia — where my dad’s family came from. I felt torn about whom to root for, my fellow-citizens or my ethnic kin. But that was a bad thing, I realized even at the time. I should cheer for my fellow Americans, period. Do any less, and you’re helping to tear apart your country.
Loyalty to This Republic
Likewise, when I argued with my fellow Catholics about immigration, I noticed divided loyalties. Again and again, people would say things like: “How can you try to keep out your fellow Catholics?” I knew this was wrong, dead wrong, but I sensed which emotional string they were trying to play on. It wasn’t Faith, but tribalism. I calmly explained, again and again, that I owed a civic duty to my fellow citizens that I in no sense owed to foreign residents who happened to belong to the same church as I do. That when our ancestors came here, they swore loyalty to this Republic. They weren’t serving as agents for a global Church seeking to colonize and conquer the place. That got me called (with contempt) an “Americanist.” Not the worst thing in the world, when you come to think of it. Not at all.
And if you’re trying to define who counts as your fellow citizen, there’s a certain emotional logic to saying, “Well, if you were born here….” We think of trees as rooted. Of wolves as having dens. Of salmon that swim back to breed in the very spot where they were born. I was born in Astoria, Queens, a few miles from Donald Trump. Having grown up there, I will always feel a stronger bond to it than I will to other places, even nicer ones with lower taxes, better politics, and superior barbecue. That’s only natural.
So there’s something “only natural” about extending citizenship to everybody who’s born here. Let’s admit that, and move on to say what else people need to know.
Exploiting Our Generosity
Birthright citizenship is not in the Constitution. But it was a long-standing presidential policy. It was born of generous motives. It appeals to our sense of place, and our openness to welcoming folks of every stripe and hue.
But our generosity has been taken advantage of. Our openness abused. We now face tens of millions of restless people in poor, disordered countries. They want to come here, and if they arrive they will bankrupt our welfare system. They will vote in the kinds of politics that ruined their native lands. And our elites want to flood the country with them, to dissolve the American people and replace it with a new one. All of that is evil. It’s morally wrong and reckless. We must stop it (to quote my fellow American, Malcolm X) by any means necessary.
Is ending birthright citizenship the best use of Donald Trump’s political capital, in solving the immigration crisis? Some conservatives don’t think so.
If we don’t build a wall, don’t force employers to check if employees are legal to work, and don’t deport those who overstay their visas, then ending birthright citizenship is a crucial emergency measure. But if we don’t do all those things, in the long run we’re lost anyway.
In a perfect world, I’d secure our citizenship at those vital choke points: the border, the workplace, and the residence visa — and leave birthright citizenship alone. I’d accept the occasional scofflaw couple, who snagged their child citizenship, as the price of retaining an emotionally attractive principle: you’re born here, you get to stay here.
But that’s just one more generous impulse which the globalists are exploiting, now, isn’t it?