A birthright

My mother was pregnant when she came to the US nearly 20 years ago. Too pregnant, in fact; the most far along you could be to board a plane was five months, and my mom was going on seven. But the visa alone had taken years to acquire, so the doctor wrote a note assuring the airline that it was safe for her to board — lying, essentially, because that was what had to be done and those safety regulations were really just an inconvenience, right? And so, along with my dad and their quiet, wide-eyed three-year-old daughter, my too-pregnant mother boarded the plane that would take us to our new life. A few months later, my younger sister was born in a hospital in Stockton, California.

There’s no question that it’s unethical, not to mention unconstitutional, to revoke birthright citizenship for any reason, which is what our president is saying he wants to do. But it’s important to take another look at why he’s saying these things. For a long time, politicians concerned with illegal immigration have advocated various ways to curb it, which has in the past included the creation of ICE and increased militarization of the border. The debate over birthright citizenship relates mainly to the idea of “anchor babies”, an idea circulated often in right-wing circles and clouded in myth and data that is either false or hard to find.

A few hundred thousand babies are born every year who have at least one parent who’s an undocumented immigrant (the number peaked to 390,000 in 2007, but has actually decreased by about 36% since then). The right-wing gripe with these births is that undocumented immigrants are coming to the country for the sole reason of having a baby who will be automatically given US citizenship, as is granted by the 14th amendment, and who can in turn “anchor” the immigrant parents to US soil. The extent to which this is true still remains to be seen.

It’s difficult to discern the number of immigrants who come to the US just to have a baby (as opposed to immigrants who just happen to have a baby while they’re here), but we should remember that birth tourism is actually a growing industry. Earlier this year, that industry experienced a boom driven by Russian mothers traveling to Miami in order to give birth.

These mothers are far from the stereotype presented by Trump and right-wing politicians. They come here legally, on tourist visas, and are honest with immigration about their reasons for traveling. They are mostly affluent, spending thousands of dollars on the trip and, ironically, staying in condos bearing the Trump name. Above all, they are not usually seeking citizenship for themselves — they’re seeking the privileges of US citizenship for the child born there, including the right to live and work in the US if they so choose and access to better education and higher status. This is also true for the number of “birth tourists” coming from China and other places.

Again, there’s no question of the legality (and constitutionality) of Trump’s proposed actions. What he wants is basically near-impossible. But it’s important to talk about because he’s not the only politician in power who’s been talking about it.

Revoking birthright citizenship for children born to immigrant parents would adversely affect a large part of the current US population, and thus the country as a whole. They did this in the Dominican Republic in 2013 and it retroactively revoked the citizenship of thousands of Dominican-born Haitian children, thus stripping them of many crucial rights granted to Dominican citizens. A recent tweet I saw from writer and actress Mindy Kaling highlights the absurdity of this kind of policy playing out in the US:

“Wait. I was born in the United States to two Indian professionals who later became proud citizens of this country. So… now I would be a citizen of India? My contributions to this country would be as a foreigner with no rights?”

She’s one among many — if my younger sister had been born under such a policy, she wouldn’t have access to the rights and benefits that she has now. (Though she admittedly hasn’t made the same contributions to this country as Mindy Kaling.)

To state the obvious, this is a country of immigrants. Let’s not forget that if birthright citizenship regardless of parents’ immigration status had not been guaranteed in the 14th amendment, many of us today would not be US citizens. Last I checked, Mr. Trump, that includes you.

 

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