Friday, August 13, 2010

Birthright Citizenship and the Republican Party

If I were a leader of the Republican Party... and I weren't John Boehner... I would be concerned about the anti-birthright citizenship stance being adopted by so many members of my party. Not only is the position inconsistent with the language of the Fourteenth Amendment and its historic application, it's internally inconsistent. That is, while railing against birthright citizenship for illegal aliens, they present no logical distinction between this nation's jurisdiction over somebody who is unlawfully in the country, somebody who is here on a visa, or a U.S. citizen who has dual citizenship.

See, for example, George Will's uniformed editorial on the subject. He cribs and emphasizes the false argument that there had not been any laws restricting immigration at the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, and recognizes that the anti-birthright argument should logically extend to legal immigrants who are not citizens:
This reasoning -- divided allegiance -- applies equally to exclude the children of resident aliens, legal as well as illegal, from birthright citizenship. Indeed, today's regulations issued by the departments of Homeland Security and Justice stipulate...
The argument would also apply to a parent who possesses dual citizenship; surely Will is aware of how some raise the issue "dual loyalty" of joint citizens, even if they don't believe there's anything inherently wrong with being loyal to both nations in which you hold citizenship. For that matter, as we're taking the parent's presumed loyalty and projecting it onto the child, what if one parent is a citizen and the other is not, or has dual citizenship - does bloodline trump (parental) loyalty? On what basis?

Michael Gerson takes the opposite, historical, and in my opinion correct position on birthright citizenship, and does a pretty good job of summarizing the issues within the limited space of his column.1 His editorial reminds me of the better aspects of the Bush Administration, and the sincere elements of compassionate conservatism that for most of his party were naught but a fig leaf. Yes, as others have pointed out, Bush endorsed immigration reform and, even after 9/11, he made numerous public statements defending the practice of Islam. For all of my complaints about weak leadership, populism and demagoguery during his presidency, when you look at what is happening to his party in the absence of sane leadership how can you not be a little bit nostalgic.

Granted, no small part of Bush's moderation on immigration arose from his desire to expand the party's reach. And although he's overtly rejecting Boehner's lead, Gerson is taking a position consistent with the long-term health of the Republican Party. Boehner2 is content to agitate, to dissemble in order to keep alive fake issues that excite the party's base. Bush, and it would appear his former speechwriter Gerson, seem to be looking forward two, three, four or more elections and recognizing what will happen if they don't attract support from a growing bloc of voters, let alone if they actively alienate those present and future voters by taking the "They don't vote for us anyway" attitude infamously attributed to James Baker.
1. Gerson writes,
"The language was designed," says historian Garrett Epps, "to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law."
A third category would be the children of members of a foreign invading or occupying force.

2. If Boehner is going to try to revive the Know-Nothing movement, perhaps he should boldly embrace that label.

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