Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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WSJ Debate on Birthright Citizenship

The Wall Street Journal this morning published my lengthy response to Tamar Jacoby’s op-ed challending my position on birthright citizenship. Letters by Northwestern Professor Stuart Meyer and Congressmen Lamar Smith of Texas and Dan Lungren of California supporting my position were published last week as well. This is an important debate, and long overdue. Comments on the exchange are welcome.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Well, I’d love to comment, but I guess you have to subscribe to WSJ to access it. Too bad.

Non-subscriber links should now be working.

It is unfortunate that we would attempt to "reinterpret" a perfectly clear text after more than 100 years of straight forward application. The Citizenship Clause is unambiguous.

If California wants to prevent immigrants from crossing the border to have children, perhaps we should (1) enforce immigration laws and provide better border security, and (2) not give them all of the government benefits that Congressmen Smith and Lungren complain about. The problem here is not the Constitution, it is big-government doing exactly what big government always does: attract people to dependency.

I am the grandchild of immigrants. In the vast confusion after WWII, my grandparents made their way to the United States. They weren’t sure they’d stay permanently; they talked about going back to "the old country" (France) in a few years, after Europe had been rebuilt.

Instead, they had my mom, who acquired U.S. citizenship by virtue of her birth. Her siblings born after her also were U.S. citizens.

My grandparents never did go back to Europe. Instead, my grandfather went to work for a railroad and then in a steel mill for 40 years. My grandmother stayed at home and tried to give her "American children" an American upbringing. They usually spoke only English at home, and they served American cuisine along with more traditional French fare.

Eventually, my grandparents became naturalized citizens. But they freely admit that the greatest reason they had to assimilate was that their children were American. Had their children not been granted American citizenship by birth, my grandparents would have had far less reason to assimilate. Had my mom and aunts and uncles not been granted American citizenship, even if they had lived in the United States for all their lives they’d still be second-class citizens. Sure, my mom and her siblings could have become naturalized citizens once they turned 18. But for 18+ years, they would not be recognized as citizens of the country that they were born and raised in. They didn’t belong in France; they never even traveled there until later in life. They knew only America. To deny them citizenship because their parents were immigrants would be to deny them full membership in the only country they had ever known.

As for concerns about "allegiances," yes, there will always be people like Hamdi. But the vast majority of second-generation immigrants aren’t going to fight against the United States. And if you have concerns about government aid to immigrants, by all means restrict those programs. But don’t deny citizenship to children of immigrants simply because of who their parents are. To do so would be a gross mistake.

(My apologies; my paragraph breaks above didn’t show up.)

To A:

I suspect your parents were here legally. As a matter of policy, it may well make sense for Congress to offer citizenship to the children of such immigrants. My point is that this is a matter of policy--for Congress to determine--not a matter of constitutional mandate.

John Eastman

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