Born in the U.S.A.? The children depicted above weren't. This Brown Brothers photo of immigrant children at Ellis Island, circa 1908, does more than document the history of the U.S. Public Health Service. It illustrates, in poignant form, one of the simplest wishes felt throughout the world's huddled masses yearning to breathe free: that one's children and grandchildren might be born on American soil and thereby might earn by right what their forebears secured solely by sweat — the privilege of saying, "I am a citizen of the United States of America."This is the promise rendered by 28 of the most important words in American law:
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.(Pues, en español también: "Todas las personas nacidas o naturalizadas en los Estados Unidos y sometidas a su jurisdicción son ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos y de los Estados en que residen.")
Only slightly less succinct are the "irresistibl[e] . . . conclusions" of the Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), the case that recognized birthright citizenship in American constitutional law:
The fourteenth amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes. The amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born within the territory of the United States of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States.Id. at 693. Leave aside for now the strange treatment of native Americans in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94 (1884), which accounted for the Wong Kim Ark Court's reference to "children of members of . . . Indian tribes." Wong Kim Ark's conclusion commands our attention: "Every citizen or subject of another country, while domiciled here, is within the allegiance and the protection, and consequently subject to the jurisdiction, of the United States." For this and more the members of Grand Army of the Republic willingly laid down their lives, and I — born far beyond the borders of the United States — am and shall remain eternally grateful.
All of this is a long prologue to a bit of overt politicking. As the 2006 elections approach, many American voters undoubtedly are still weighing their options. I'd like to offer a little advice that, with any luck, will be helpful in addition to being unsolicited. Any candidate for Congress who supports the proposed Enforcement First Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (EFIRA), H.R. 3938, deserves to lose. All other things being equal, vote for his or her opponent.
EFIRA is filled with odious provisions, but section 701, purporting to define "Citizenship at Birth for Children of Non-Citizen, Non-Permanent Resident Aliens," is singularly offensive. Section 701 would amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act by adding this new provision:
[A] person born in the United States shall be considered as "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States" if —This is nothing short of a legislative attempt to override (or at least circumvent) Wong Kim Ark. It is an insult to Wong Kim Ark and to the millions of Americans — born in the U.S.A. and elsewhere — touched by his legal legacy. For this affront to core American values, Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz. 5), sponsor of H.R. 3938, deserves to lose his reelection bid. So do his 33 cosponsors.(1) the child was born in wedlock in the United States to a parent either of whom is (A) a citizen or national of the United States, or (B) an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and maintains his or her residence . . . in the United States; or
(2) the child was born out of wedlock in the United States to a mother who is (A) a citizen or national of the United States, or (B) an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and maintains her residence in the United States.
Children do not ask to be born. They have no control over the circumstances of their birth. They can no more choose their birthplace than they can choose their parents.
And what of the mothers of these children, putatively driven by a perfidious combination of greed and sloth to enter the United States illegally in order to give birth to "anchor babies" and thereby to spark "chain migration"? I shall not speculate on the malice that motivates demagogues to spout such venom, or on the desperation that drives voters to imbibe their poison. But I know this much: No woman is evil who seeks to bring her child into a world of promise and not of squalor.