Don’t mess with citizenship

December 4, 2018

Whenever I talk about immigration matters, I try not to let people see that tattoo on my forehead, the one with the Statue of Liberty wrapped in a copy of the 14th Amendment. It’s a conversation killer.

But there’s no avoiding the fact that my day job has a strong influence on the way I view President Donald Trump’s announced idea of getting rid of birthright citizenship, something which has been fairly settled law for over a century.

It was inevitable that immigrants would once again become that convenient political football, raw meat for the social media masses.

I’m hip to the games people play, and I usually ignore the comments about criminal aliens, gang members, racist Republicans and the like. That’s because I’m an immigration lawyer and know a lot more about the inner workings of the laws and the real world impact on people like my clients than the Facebook scholars who keep posting links on my page about “birth tourism,” which I thought was what happened when Mary and Joseph were scouting out a room at the inn.

If that makes me sound pretentious, so be it. I tend hide my law degree under a bushel until I hear something that twists my lower intestine into a pretzel.

And my lower intestine is ready for some mustard because the drumbeat of “eliminating birthright citizenship” has gotten louder. The useful imagery of the caravan at our southern border was diminished somewhat by the intervening tragedies of the pipe bomber and the murderous anti-Semite in Pittsburgh. So the White House did a masterful pivot, and raised the specter of scary “anchor babies” and the harm they pose to good, decent Americans.

The term “anchor baby” was coined about 20 years ago, but it really gained prominence in 2006 when the country was embroiled in a debate about comprehensive immigration reform.

When I first heard it, I envisioned Walter Cronkite with a bib and a rattle, until I realized that this derogatory term was being used to denote a child born in the United States who would be able to confer benefits upon an illegal alien parent.

By 2006, I had been practicing immigration law for over a decade, and knew that there was no such thing as a baby who could immediately legalize mommy and daddy. In most cases, that child needed to reach the age of 21 before he or she could sponsor a parent for lawful permanent residence or “the green card,” so it appeared to me as if that anchor was about as heavy as a feather.

And, kaboom!, the whole issue of birthright citizenship reared its anachronistic head. Since the time of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment has held that any person born in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is a native born citizen. Now, Trump and his friends who want to eliminate birthright citizenship or “ius solis” are saying that the children of illegal aliens are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US and therefore not entitled to citizenship.

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how an illegal alien who commits a crime in the U.S. is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of our laws.

Lay off my Bill of Rights, Mr. President.

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