A recurring motif of the race for the Republican presidential nomination has been that immigration needs to be curbed, and that birthright citizenship — citizenship obtained by birth on American soil — should be ended. (Carly Fiorna, to her credit, argues that while something needs to be done about illegal immigration, ending birthright citizenship would be a long and arduous process.) Other than undermining of Fourteenth Amendment, why should any of us care?
Two words: Dominican Republic.
Unlike the United States, the Dominican Republic does not have birthright citizenship. A child born in the country are only citizens if one of their parents are. Children born to parents who are in the Dominican Republic without proper papers — many of whom are refugees from Haiti — are considered as being “in transit.” In many cases, those parents had been refused legal status by the Dominican government. Furthermore, the government has made this policy retroactive to 1929; in a country where birth certificates are difficult to come by, individuals have had to show generations of Dominican residency.
Earlier this year, the Dominican government began a mass deportation of people who lacked the proof of Dominican ancestry. Haiti refused to accept the deportees, leaving them stranded at the border. In particular, people born in the Dominican Republic whose parents did not have papers faced statelessness.
This roundup effort was mainly aimed at people who were poor, or who appeared to have Haitian ancestry. Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes and are stranded at the Haitian border, belonging to neither one country nor the other. It’s a humanitarian crisis.
Do we want that here?
If a child is not a citizen at birth, what about the children of people here on visas? Is it only the children of undocumented that are fair game to be stripped of their citizenship?
Is it proactive? Retroactive? If retroactive, how far back do we go?
The bureaucracy would be horrendous. In order to get a Social Security Number, instead of one birth certificate a person would have to present two, or maybe three. This would apply not only to young people but anyone who needed to get replacement cards. For some people in this country, coming up with even one birth certificate would be difficult. My birth certificate, for example, is in New Orleans, and God knows whether those records survived Katrina. One reason I keep my passport up to date is that it can fill in for a birth certificate if need be. Getting my mother’s would be a royal pain, but I think it could be done. If she had been born at home, as some people were in that era, she might not even have a birth certificate.
Any change in requirements to prove citizenship would run into the same problems that face Voter I.D. laws: there are a lot of people, especially old people, especially poor people, who do not have access to their birth certificates, if they ever had them. Ending birthright citizenship would create one more club that racist or classist state and local governments can use to hit not only undocumented immigrants but anyone of foreign descent.
Call me cynical, but I am pretty sure that the student from Ireland who decided to stay after his visa expired and who is therefore in the country illegally would be less likely to be asked to show his papers than a native-born Mexican-American. And there will be cases of citizens — people born in America, sometimes with no ties to Mexico or other countries — being deported. In fact, it’s already happened.
We cannot end birthright citizenship. Those who claim otherwise, who somehow think this will solve the immigration problems this country faces, who don’t seem to see how this could hurt a lot of even second- and third-generation Americans (or worse, do not care), do not possess the intellect and integrity to be president.