Who Is a Citizen?

Posted: Mar 09, 2012 12:01 AM
Who Is a Citizen?
Is Mitt Romney in favor of increasing the number of illegal immigrants in the United States? You might not think so, given his tough anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, but his leading immigration adviser wants to do just that. What's more, the proposal this adviser is pushing would impose a new tax -- from $1,200 to $1,600 -- on every American family for the birth of each child. These are the conclusions of a new study put out by the conservative think tank the National Foundation for American Policy. The whole study calls into question the motives behind the radical anti-immigration groups that have been trying to make illegal immigration a central issue in the campaign.

The Romney adviser is Kris Kobach, who is the brains behind the anti-illegal immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama now being challenged in the courts. Kobach's latest effort is to revoke birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Kobach and a plethora of groups not only oppose illegal immigration but also want to drastically reduce the number of legal immigrants, and they are pushing state legislation to deny citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants. And many conservative legislators are jumping on the bandwagon.

Even if enacted, these proposals will not likely hold up, because individual states do not have the right to restrict U.S. citizenship, according to most constitutional scholars. But for the sake of argument, let's say they passed constitutional muster; would they be a good idea if the goal is to reduce illegal immigration? In fact, they would create thousands of new illegal immigrants -- babies who would be essentially "stateless" and who would be barred from ever working in the U.S. when they became adults. Meanwhile, these laws would do nothing to discourage future illegal immigrants, who come seeking jobs, not to have American babies.

But perhaps the most important reason conservative voters should be highly skeptical of denying birthright citizenship is what it would do to all American citizens who give birth in the United States. Because babies born here now are presumed citizens under the Constitution and current law, parents aren't required to do anything to prove their own citizenship. There's no expensive paperwork or bureaucracy involved. Indeed, birth certificates showing a child was born on U.S. soil are now proof of citizenship.

The NFAP study, however, argues that taking away this presumption would end up encumbering new parents with proving their own citizenship status and would create a whole new, cumbersome agency to verify claims and issue documents. Ironically, under the most stringent proposals being pushed by those who want to end birthright citizenship, Romney's own right to be considered "a natural born Citizen" eligible to become president might be challenged.

Romney's father was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his family had been part of a Mormon community for three generations after fleeing the Utah territory in the 19th century when it became clear polygamy would be outlawed under statehood. At the very least, if such a law had been in place when Romney was born, his parents would have had to hire lawyers to prove his right to U.S. citizenship, and we might now be debating the authenticity of his birth certificate as vigorously as some conspiracy theorists debate President Barack Obama's.

It's too bad Romney and other conservatives feel the need to embrace the fringes on an issue as important as citizenship. One of the greatest gifts America has given to the world is its sense of inclusiveness. We are welcoming people who want to embrace those whose desire it is to become part of our great nation.

Creating barriers to citizenship for all people born on U.S. soil would not reduce, much less end, illegal immigration. What it would mean is fewer future Americans. One estimate puts the loss in future American citizens as high as 13 million by 2050. Of course, the hope of the radicals who are advising Romney is that all these people will pack up and go "home." But their only home is here, their birthplace.