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Where You're Born:
Does It Make a Difference?

February 15, 2016

There have been continuous questions raised by one Republican candidate about another’s country of birth.  We find this frivolous since the one being questioned was born to a U.S. citizen.  The charges draw voter’s attention away from important substantive issues.  But it raises another important issue. – Birthright citizenship.

Birthright citizenship isn’t well understood but has important consequences.  If wrong -- those contending any person born in the U.S. to parents who are in the country illegally is a citizen -- then it would simply take an act by Congress to declare those children aren’t U.S. citizens. In the process Congress could include language making it clear anyone born to a U.S. citizen-parent is a natural-born citizen.  

The dispute comes from Section 1 of the 14th Amendment which states: “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.”  This amendment was adopted to overturn the unconscionable Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred-Scott decision.  In that case the Court held that slaves were property and that black people (even free blacks) and their children could never be citizens.  

The issue is whether the amendment goes further.   There’s no mention of the alien status of the parents. At issue is whether U.S. citizenship is based upon the person’s birthplace OR upon the citizenship of the parents.  If U.S. citizens give birth to children while in Mexico, to which country are these children citizens?  We contend, those children are natural born U.S. citizens (different from people who are born to non-U.S.-citizen-parents and then immigrate legally to the U.S. and are eventually granted citizenship).

Back in the 1860’s children of Native Americans living on tribal lands were considered “semi-sovereign.”  It took Congress until 1924 to grant them full U.S. citizenship. 

Some believe the Constitution automatically grants citizenship to anybody born in the U.S. or its territories regardless of the parents’ immigration status.  Past governmental precedence doesn’t necessarily support this argument, especially if the parents are in U.S. jurisdiction illegally.  Others point out that “born in the USA” regardless of the parent’s status encourages foreigners to come here illegally, knowing their children will be citizens, while it may also provide a means for the parents to stay.

This issue has important consequences. If those who believe the Constitution provides for “birthright-citizenship” to all born on U.S. soil are correct, then a Constitutional amendment is needed, otherwise passing simple legislation could resolve this issue.

Regardless of which view is correct we believe those born to foreigners shouldn’t be granted U.S. citizenship without going through the naturalization process.  We recognize the immigration process is broken.  For example, at times, it fails to act humanly and leaves in limbo those allowed to enter our country, knowing full well they can never return.  It seems to us, however, that securing our borders, fixing the broken system and finding a balance between deporting every illegal and deporting none is in our national interest. 

Bill, Mark, and John


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