ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Red-Blue America: Is Trump right about birthright citizenship?

Birthright citizenship turns consent on its head -- end it Let's put it this way: Donald Trump may be an execrable demagogue, but he isn't wrong about birthright citizenship. Birthright citizenship -- an essentially medieval idea -- has no place ...

1587872+BoychuckBencolor_120px.jpg

Birthright citizenship turns consent on its head - end it

Let’s put it this way: Donald Trump may be an execrable demagogue, but he isn’t wrong about birthright citizenship.
Birthright citizenship - an essentially medieval idea - has no place in a republic built on the consent of the governed. Citizenship should be about more than just showing up. And an accident of birth ought not be the ultimate trump card in American law.
Trump being Trump, the liberal-left has dismissed the GOP frontrunner’s call to abolish birthright citizenship as extreme, bigoted and, incidentally, “unconstitutional.”
Well, maybe not. The claim hinges on the language of the 14th Amendment, which was passed and ratified after the Civil War to ensure that freed slaves would have the benefits of citizenship. It 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.”
“Subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is wide-open to interpretation. But think about it this way: If citizenship were simply a matter of birth on U.S. soil, why bother including that clause in the first place?
Because the framers of the amendment meant America’s “whole jurisdiction” and clearly had exceptions in mind: children of foreign diplomats and “Indians not taxed,” for example. In other words: people whose loyalty and allegiance belonged not to the United States, and nowhere else. Surely illegal immigrants, whatever their intentions or dreams of a better life, would fall squarely under that category.
Citizenship is not a right so much as a privilege. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1884, “no one can become a citizen of a nation without its consent.” So it hardly makes sense that the children of people who entered the country illegally should have citizenship conferred automatically.
Yet the prevailing understanding of the 14th Amendment holds precisely that. The prevailing view is wrong.
Forget the blowhard messenger and focus on the message. Every country in the world gets to say who enters, who may stay and who qualifies for the privilege of citizenship. Birthright citizenship turns consent on its head, and should be ended.

Ben Boychuk ( bboychuk@city-journal.org ) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

What To Read Next