photo credit: .fenster.

It’s time that we eliminate birthright citizenship. For everybody.

The emotional and often vitriolic discord resulting from the ever-present debate regarding illegal immigration has, amongst many things, focused on the topic of birthright citizenship. Vocal advocates of the alleged “rule of law” refer pejoratively to “anchor babies” and perverse incentives enticing migrants to birth their infants on American soil to secure the spontaneous and immediate status of citizenship for that child. Their sights are set on the Citizenship Clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

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.

Leaving aside the particulars of this argument, such as the narrow definition of who is and is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, it is important to note the near-synonymous way in which people treat residency and citizenship. Many of the more notable champions of laws to crack down on “illegal immigration” seemingly assume that citizenship is the end goal of all immigrants, and therefore argue that this precious commodity should be much more restricted.

This conflation of residency (a denizen) and naturalization (a citizen) has created a very chaotic and draconian set of laws which brings the full force of the federal government to bear against the union of a family, the productivity of a business, or whatever peaceful and productive desires an immigrant may have. When the government assumes that any immigrant is looking to become a citizen, it intimately involves itself in the travel and residency of that person—something to which conservatives, especially, should look with great alarm.

But why do people want to become citizens at all?

At its core, citizenship is about participation in government, whether through voting, or seeking elective or appointed office. Citizens are able to influence what laws are passed, how high taxes will be, for what purpose they will be used, etc. But while the citizens can control the laws, denizens, too, are subject to them and comply through being taxed as well. Thus, your average immigrant simply looking for productive employment and a secure residence will not care so much about participation in government, and thus be content to simply be a denizen. That citizenship is currently sought after so vigorously by so many is primarily due to the added benefits citizens receive to sponsor other immigrants and not be subject to deportation—benefits which only result from our illegitimate immigration laws. Remove the bad laws, and balance may be restored between citizens and denizens.

The larger question—one which after searching I could find nowhere addressed—is, however: should Americans enjoy birthright citizenship? Should an individual born to citizens become a citizen himself, simply by virtue of successfully navigating his mother’s birth canal?

Perhaps another example might clarify my perspective. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, babies do not become members of the Church. Membership is obtained through the ordinance of baptism and confirmation, and children may receive these ordinances once they are eight years old. Despite being born to parents who themselves are members, no membership status is conferred to the child until he or she reaches a sufficient “age of accountability”, where the child (ideally, hopefully) understands what membership means, why it is important, and what his/her corresponding duties as a member of the Church will be.

It would be silly, in this author’s opinion, to confer membership status in a Church to an infant who does not consent him/herself, does not understand the obligations of and benefits for members, and will not be able to recall the ordinance at all. Membership means something, and thus is deferred until the individual is of a sufficient age to proceed.

Likewise, citizenship should mean something—something more than simply being born. It should be understood, earned, and prized by the person who voluntary consents to acquire it. It should not be a free gift, but rather a process through which the willing individual progresses by investing the time and energy needed to demonstrate a capacity to perform the duties of a citizen.

Those who wish to influence the government should possess a basic understanding of its history, nature, structure, and operations. They should be of sufficient age to acquire the status of citizenship, and that status should be separated from any other illegitimate, enticing incentives that would pervert its importance and intent. Taking steps in this direction—separating naturalization from immigration, stripping citizenship of the other benefits unrelated to its core function, and imposing a minimum age and comprehension for all would-be citizens, children of American citizens included—would introduce a healthier balance to our body politic.

In short, the toils of labor and delivery should be deemed insufficient to earning the status of citizenship, regardless of who the parents are. Rather than focusing our anger on migrants who have crossed a jurisdictional boundary to raise a family and contribute to our economy, and advocating their children be denied automatic citizenship, we should encourage discussion about the broader concept, and reassess whether granting citizenship is a good thing to do for any newborn child, despite his or her parentage.


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