Words, Words, Words!

Let’s Talk About Birthright Citizenship

Recently, Donald Drumpf has said that he would end birthright citizenship, meaning the children of undocumented immigrants would no longer be citizens of the United States just because they were born here. He’s made a point of dehumanizing them by calling these children “anchor babies”. Interestingly enough, on his website Donald says that he would end birthright citizenship under the section Defend The Laws And Constitution Of The United States. I find this interesting because birthright citizenship is actually protected in the 14th amendment to the Constitution, so Donald wouldn’t be defending the Constitution, but changing it. It’s perfectly fine to try to change the Constitution, it’s happened before and it’s how our country grows and develops, but you have to be honest about what you’re doing.

A quick history lesson: The 14th amendment was passed in 1868, right after the Civil War. It was originally meant to give citizenship to recently freed African American slaves. The first sentence, the Citizenship Clause, went against rulings like the Dred Scott v Sanford (Remember that from your history class? No?) case that said slaves whose ancestors were “imported” and sold as slaves were not and could not become US citizens. Not even 10 years after it passed, the 14th amendment was the cause of controversy. During the Slaughterhouse cases, the United States Supreme Court interpreted the 14th amendment to state that there was a difference between United States citizenship and state citizenship, so the federal government couldn’t make slaughterhouses move nor prevent them from poisoning New Orlean’s water supply. Tons of people got chollera, it was all very confusing, and nobody these days agrees with this ruling. Anyway, the 14th amendment did a lot of good things for the civil rights movement.

Fast forward to 2015 and everyone is getting up-in-arms over whether or not the children of undocumented immigrants are actually citizens of the United States. Some people argue that the original intent of the 14th amendment wasn’t to allow any immigrants to have children in the United States and become citizens. I find it funny that these people don’t seem to care about the original meaning of the 2nd amendment but that’s none of my business.  A very incorrect website that comes up when you Google “original 14th amendment meaning” tries to tell you that the man who helped write the amendment, Senator Howard, didn’t intend for it to apply to children of immigrants. However, during debate, three senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lyman Trumbull, the author of the Civil Rights Act, as well as President Andrew Johnson, asserted that both the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment would confer citizenship on them at birth. (As you’re reading this document, please remember that this was the 1800s and they talk a lot about not liking “Indians, Gypsies, and Chinese.” It was a different time..) No senator, not even Howard, opposed this. (I will admit it really suck’s that Johnson’s reasoning for this was that it “[p]roposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy and patriotic foreigners, and in favor of the negro.” These guys were really racist…)

So denying the children of immigrants birthright citizenship strictly because you think it wasn’t the original intent of the 14th amendment is bullshit. It may not have been the original meaning, but Andrew Johnson in 1866 seems original enough to me.

The other common reason I hear to deny citizenship is due to the wording of the Citizenship Clause, aka the first and most litigated part of this amendment. It 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.”

The part that people take issue with is the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” part. They take that to mean that people who are not subject to the laws of the United States, like foreign soldiers or ambassadors, cannot give birth to children here and have them become citizens. In a way, yes these people have the right idea. Ambassadors and foreign soldiers are excused from the 14th amendment. Then again, Embassies have different laws than the rest of the country. An ambassador cannot be arrested and thrown in jail the same way an immigrant can be. ambassadors have diplomatic immunity.

If an undocumented immigrant commits a crime, they can go to jail. They are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, plain and simple.


I understand how confusing and muddy all of this is, and there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding birthright citizenship. Let’s look at some other facts that people like Donald Trump don’t want to talk about.

#1)   It’s really stinkin’ difficult to become a citizen of the United States legally. Nowhere in Donald’s 2000 word immigration outline does he mention how he’ll make it easier to become a citizen legally. Looking online, sources say that it’s not uncommon to spend over two years trying to become a United States citizen, but many of my Hispanic friends tell me that they have family members who have waited anywhere from 8-12 years. If an immigrant has a visa, but stays in the country after it expires, they can be barred from entering the country for 10 years. Think about that. 10 years ago the iPhone didn’t exist. 10 years ago Vice President Dick Cheney shot a guy. Imagine if you left the country when all that was happening and came back today. It’s insane and we have to get rid of that.

#2) According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants paid around $13,000,000,000 in payroll taxes alone. That doesn’t include any other taxes that you pay, like the taxes everyone pays at grocery stores and fast-food joints. There is so much income coming from people who don’t get any of the benefits. On Donald’s website, he says that he would “end welfare abuse” as a part of his immigration policy. Newsflash (do people still say that?), people who are hiding from the government are not going to be asking the government for financial help. Undocumented people don’t get help with housing, food stamps, or often times healthcare. As part of an essay I had to write for my global studies class, I once asked a friend who had undocumented family members how you to the doctors when they didn’t have any legal papers. He simply said, “You don’t.” Immigrant parent’s brought/had their children in the United States so that they could have a better life, but they sacrificed their own health and wellbeing for it, and Donald Drumpf has the gall to say that they’re taking our tax dollars? Never mind the fact that the reason he has such an empire is due to government tax breaks and subsidies.

#3) I’m almost done ranting, I promise. There are over 11,000,000 undocumented people in the United States. Almost all of them are working, because why else would you risk deportation? If you suddenly remove all those people from their jobs, the economy is going to suffer. We’d lose around 6% of America’s workforce. Farmers in some states could see anywhere from 40-50% of their workforce being deported. It is simply not economically feasible to have a mass deportation of undocumented workers.


I lived in Grand Island in 2006, during the Swift & Co. raids. Kids my age who were born in the United States went to school that morning, and at the end of the day their parents had been arrested and they were alone. My neighbor came to the United States from Colombia because a few people were terrorizing them and he and his wife and kids were trying not to die. These people are incredibly brave and strong, and we need a path to citizenship that is easier to navigate. Immigrants have only ever made our country better. We need to live by the words that my ancestors read as they sailed by Lady Liberty all those years ago:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


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