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Opening Arguments

Anchors away

A couple of Indiana University professors take the typical hardline establishment view of illegal immigration, i.e. that anyone who worries about it is an inhumane monster trying to deny basic human dignity. Even calling immigrants  "illegal" instead of "undocumented" is an attempt to dehumanize them. One of them takes a pass at "birthright citizenship," the practice of granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in this country:

Then you look at proposals like Texas state Representative Leo Berman's plan to deny U.S. citizenship, healthcare and public education to their U.S.-born children -- which is a profound challenge to the Constitution. It's a fundamental concept of the developed world that children cannot be punished for the alleged crimes of their parents. We don't punish the children of drunk drivers or serial killers, yet there's a segment of American society that is tempted to use children as leverage or as hostages in the immigration debate."

But those children are already used as leverage in the immigration debate, on the other side. The professor is challengeable on at least a couple of points. For one thing, he engages in a little sleight of hand when he says the developed world doesn't punish children for the sins of their parents and drags in things like drunken drivers and serial killers. When it comes to the specific practice of birthright citizenship, most countries do not in fact, grant it, for the very good reason that it is stupid to do so. It creates "anchor babies," the presence of whom creates a powerful incentive to look the other way on their entire extended families.

And a "profound challenge to the Constitution" is not exactly beyond debate, either. The relevant portion of the 14th Amendment says , "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." The addition of "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" would seem to make citizenship more than simply being born on American soil, and if you study the debates surrounding passage of the 14th, especially in the Senate, this becomes clearer.

We aren't required to create those anchor babies, we just have, and we don't especially go after their families, either. That is a significant part of the immigration situation, so it seems a reasonable part of the discussion. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the question. Given the makeup of the current court, that means all we really need to know is what Justice Kennedy thinks about it.