If the ghost of Abraham Lincoln visited you to ask about the state of the Republic, would you say, “The ideals for which you died remain uncontested – you may rest in peace”?
Or would honesty compel you to inform the Great Emancipator of legislation currently pending in Congress that would deny American citizenship to many of our country’s native-born children simply because their parents are not U.S. citizens or “green card” holders? Would the phantom shed a tear when told that it is Republicans that are pushing this agenda?
America has long been blessed with a principal of law called “birthright citizenship,” which establishes that individuals born within the United States are automatically citizens of the United States. As clarified by the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment and the subsequent Supreme Court case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, birthright citizenship does not depend on considerations of descent or lineage such as the nationality or immigration status of one’s parents.
The 14th Amendment was proposed and ratified shortly after the Civil War to ensure that ideals over which the war was fought were incorporated into our nation’s fundamental principles of government. Included in this amendment was the Citizenship Clause, which states, “All persons born in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” This clause erased the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, a court case that ruled in favor of withholding U.S. citizenship from children born in America to slaves of African descent.
If doubts still existed as to whether birthright citizenship extended to children of foreigners, they were laid to rest by an 1898 court case concerning the status of Wong Kim Ark, a child born in the United States to Chinese immigrants. At the time, the Chinese Exclusion laws barred Chinese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. But in a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court unequivocally declared Wong Kim Ark a U.S. citizen, thereby rejecting the argument that the immigration status of a U.S.-born child’s parents could limit the operation of the Citizenship Clause.
Although often taken for granted by Americans who have never been denied its benefits, U.S. citizenship may be the most precious possession Americans hold. Only citizens enjoy the right to vote – perhaps the most basic of rights because it empowers its holders to choose their government. The extremist Republicans seeking to deprive native-born children of their citizenship would deny this right and other fundamental rights such as equality under the law, due process and economic opportunity to untold numbers of persons born in this country.
Many of the people that the fanatics are attempting to disenfranchise are the U.S.-born children of our country’s undocumented residents. These innocents have done nothing to violate U.S. laws. Rather, through no fault of their own, they were simply born to the “wrong” parents. As generations of other U.S.-born persons with foreign-born parents have done before them, these U.S.-born children are likely to make the United States their permanent home. They will formulate ties to their communities and this country and strive to make them better places to live.
Sadly, many, perhaps most, Republican Members of Congress would deny these native-born children the precious benefits associated with citizenship as well as introduce discriminatory principles into the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of individual liberties and even-handed application of the law. In short, by denying U.S. citizenship to these children, these Republicans would create a permanent underclass of residents in this country. Moreover, since U.S.-born children of undocumented parents are predominately members of racial minorities, the attempt to make exceptions to the citizenship status of these children imperils the very existence of our multicultural society by threatening to resurrect the racist policies announced in Dred Scott.
Make no doubt about it, if Lincoln were alive today, he would oppose the mean-spirited attempt to circumvent the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship. Honest Abe would be the first to ask of the confrontational Republicans who would gut the amendment: “If you are successful in depriving U.S.-born children of their constitutionally-granted citizenship, who will you seek to disenfranchise next?”
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Greg Boos blogs from his office in Bellingham WA and his home in Vancouver BC. Please contact Greg the following address should you desire assistance on a US immigration matter:
Greg Boos, Attorney at Law
Cascadia Cross-Border Law
1305 11th Street, Suite 301
Bellingham WA 98225
At Cascadia Cross-Border Law, we create transparent borders!