At the heart of any democracy lies the idea of citizenship. The question of who is and who is not part of the polity is the basis from which everything else flows. In most nations, one inherits citizenship from one’s parents. Thus, one is German because one’s parents are German. This leads to a strange situation in which the German-born, German-speaking, German-educated grandchildren of guestworkers are Turkish citizens. The US takes the view, as per the 14th amendment to the Constitution, that anyone born on American soil, with some narrow exceptions, are Americans by birth. Now, some Republican candidates for president are demanding an end to that.
Leading the charge against birthright citizenship is Donald Trump whose immigration policy just came out. He wants to end the practice. He claims that undocumented persons come to America, have a child who is an American per the law, and then use that “anchor baby” to bring other family members and become legal residents. He believes that all 11 million undocumented aliens need to be sent back to where they came from, and in order to keep families together, the children with US passports will be shipped out, too. The idea of the US government deporting its own citizens is ridiculous, but it is this kind of problem that must be addressed to make any change work.
Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker joined him. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal tweeted “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.” Kentucky’s junior Senator Rand Paul said in 2010 that he didn’t “think the 14th Amendment was meant to apply to illegal aliens.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum wrote back in May, “Other enticements to illegal immigration, such as birthright citizenship, should be ended. Only children born on American soil where at least one parent is a citizen or resident aliens is automatically a U.S. citizen. Of developed countries other than the United States, only Canada has birthright citizenship.”
However, there are some who oppose a change. This includes former Hewlett Packard president Carly Fiorina, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
As a result, there is a chance that the GOP will have an intelligent and informative debate the very nature of American citizenship. More likely, there will be bickering and name-calling, and the one who stakes out the most extreme position will make the party toxic to Hispanic voters. One expects the Latino vote to shift even further toward the Democrats because of the likely course of the discusion.
Politically, this is a needed discussion, but it will do the GOP little good unless the pro-birthright candidates triumph decisively. The most difficult part for the anti-birthright crowd is going to be the requirement to alter the language of the 14th amendment. Amending the US constitution requires a 2/3 majority vote in favor in both houses of Congress followed by ratification of three-quarters of the states, 37 of 50. In other words, this just isn’t going to happen. Therefore, the debate is render moot even as it begins.
Politics is the art of the possible. Changing birthright citizenship is within the realm of the possible, but in the borderlands of the improbable. More practical solutions to the problem of undocumented aliens in the United States are needed and are most assuredly there to be had. The Republican Party would benefit greatly from a more moderate stance on immigration than “ship them back.” However, the party appears to be on the brink of handing the middle ground to the Democrats, and if that is the case, the GOP will lose the White House in 2016 on the strength of the Hispanic vote.