Over the next fifteen months before we all get to vote on who the next President of the United States will be, lots of things will have happened. We’ll all have seen the Star Wars movie. We’ll know what finally happened with Katniss. Apple will come out with a nifty new dingus, Amazon will deliver by drone, and Wall Street crooks will go unpunished. Kale will come in injectable form, houses will be equipped with holodecks and engineers will be working out the final bugs in transporter technology. 2016 is going to be dope.
We’re in the silly season of Presidential politics, is my point. Candidates are jostling for position, raising money, giving speeches, trying to figure out what voters’ main concerns are and what issues might be profitably emphasized. Trying to get noticed. Now, in August 2015. With football season starting in, like, two weeks. And because one candidate, the most unlikely candidate in years, is leading the Republican race by a big margin, the issues he’s focused on have tended to draw the most attention. Which means Trump, and which means immigration. And, lately, he’s been saying a lot about an obscure but important issue; the idea of birthright citizenship. A policy that has to change, apparently. Trump calls it a ‘magnet for illegal immigration.’
And other candidates are weighing in. Chris Christie: “While birthright citizenship may have made sense at some point in our history, right now, we need to relook at all of that.” Lindsay Graham: “I don’t mind changing the law. I think it’s a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.” Bobby Jindal: “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.” Scott Walker, asked if he supported ending birthright citizenship, responded ‘yeah,’ before waffling. Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush wouldn’t go that far, but both agreed that illegal immigration is a serious issue. (HINT: no, it isn’t.)
Here’s the thing: birthright citizenship isn’t a policy, and it isn’t a law that can simply be changed legislatively and it isn’t ‘a practice.’ It’s in the Constitution. And it’s not really ambiguous or obscure. Here it is, from Article One of the Fourteenth Amendment:
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
If you’re born in the United States, you’re a citizen of the United States. Period. And yes, the National Review and Daily Caller have recently made themselves look ridiculous by arguing that ‘all citizens born in the United States are citizens of the United States’ doesn’t mean, you know, that being actually born here somehow means that you’re, like, a citizen or whatever. (I’m absolutely not going to link to those two publications, by the way). Silly websites are welcome to publish silly articles all they want to–First Amendment–but the facts are that getting rid of birthright citizenship requires an amendment to the Constitution, and that will never, ever happen. And trying to make it happen will also have the charming side effect of destroying the Republican party. Which I would rather not have happen, thank you very much. ‘Cause: Lincoln.
Reading articles about this issue is sort of fun, though. It’s not hard to read between the lines of the various statements of the Republican Presidential candidates to see what a tricky issue this is for Republicans. First of all, they have to pretend that illegal immigrants are currently pouring over our southern border–which they’re not–and that undocumented workers therefore create a host of big social problems–which they don’t. Trump wants to build a big fence, and get Mexico to pay for it. He won’t and they won’t. It’s a silly, nonsense issue. And Trump won’t let it go, because he’s not a serious man. He just pretends to be one on TV.
And it’s not like there aren’t actual, real things that can and should be done for those people who are now in our country, living their lives half-in-shadow and hoping for some resolution to their legal status. We could, for example, pass the Dream Act. We could create a sensible pathway to citizenship. We could end the grotesque exploitation of these workers by employers. There are real things we could really do. Instead, Trump flies around in his helicopter saying ridiculous things on the subject.
And I, for one, hope he keeps running, keeps up in the polls, keeps harping on building big walls and calling Mexicans rapists. Keep it up, Donald. The race for the Presidency, in fact, may already be over. To find out why, some recent history.
In my lifetime, two candidates from California have won the Presidency; Nixon and Reagan. Both were conservatives; Reagan, massively so. From 1960-1996, California only voted for a Democrat for President once. Nowadays, of course, California is a reliable blue state, a Democratic stronghold. What happened?
Immigration hysteria. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson, in a close race for re-election, blamed illegal immigrants for all his state’s problems. He strongly supported Prop 187, which denied all sorts of state benefits to undocumented workers. And Republicans haven’t won California since. Hispanic voters noticed. And they vote.
To win the White House, Republicans probably need to win about 45% of the Republican vote. Mitt Romney, you may have noticed, did not win the Presidency. He won 27% of the Hispanic vote, and polled afterwards, Hispanics kept going back to one word–self-deportation–as the main reason they went Democratic.
Self-deportation then, birthright citizenship now; the Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot with Hispanic voters. Jeb Bush would rather actually come up with a sensible immigration policy: and you can see how uncomfortable Trumpian demagoguery on this issue makes him. He speaks fluent Spanish; his wife is from Mexico. I don’t particularly want Jeb Bush to be President, but this is a policy where his instincts are reasonable. His brother, as President, proposed an immigration bill that wasn’t half bad. Marco Rubio sponsored a decent enough immigration bill in the Senate; he’s not a wacko on this issue. So there was reason to think that Republican outreach to Hispanics could work.
And there’s still plenty of time for Rubio or Bush to revive their respective candidacies. But the Republican electorate is, by and large, insane on this issue. Make any proposal that provides for people who are already here to stay and you’ll get accused of supporting ‘amnesty.’ Blarg.
Self-deportation was a terrible idea when Governor Romney proposed it; birthright citizenship just flat isn’t an issue at all, because the Constitution is very hard to amend, and no amendment ending citizenship for frankly racist reasons has a chance of passage. So it’s not like this is, you know, a thing. But for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it’s about the best question they ever get asked. “Do you support birthright citizenship?” “Yes. I support the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Boom.
Meanwhile, millions of young people, the Dreamers, remain in a preposterous legal limbo. That’s the issue we should be talking about; passing the Dream Act. This is America. We built our nation on immigration. How about this: I will support any candidate who supports full amnesty and the Dream Act. And oppose any who don’t.