09 August 2010

Immigration takes a strange turn

Apparently we're busy trying to overturn portions of amendments now, and strip out that birthright citizenship (jus soli) that is granted and protected by the 14th Amendment right off the bat.

Never mind that overturning any of an amendment or clause in the Constitution has almost no historical precedent (and that one of the dumbest and most unpopular amendments in our history, Prohibition), it seems more important to DEFEND what is in the Constitution and demand and protect our rights that are not to be infringed (like most of those Bill of Rights, including the enumeration of freedom of religion and speech or those protecting us with due process and against search and seizure powers), or against powers not enumerated or necessarily expanded upon by the functions of government than to seek to restrict further things like the ease of immigration through constitutional measures. I can imagine a number of amendments I should like to see abolished or further amended (12th, 17th, 22nd, 25th for example seem questionable in their practical effects, or their restrictions of freedoms). But I'd first like to see a mounting defence of the ones we've already got from the general public first and a probable explanation for why we should overturn one in the first place. The 14th has become one of those most essential additions and protections of citizens' rights. I'd hardly suggest it needs to go in whole or in part. In fact, I believe its privileges and immunities clause needs to be enforced rather than looking to weaken the thing further.

I'm not sure why this is a supposed issue worthy of fighting over in the first place. I'm guessing that anti-immigration forces believe that people come here simply to have children as a shield against deportation. I suspect people come here and have families here because they find a better quality of life here than wherever they came from, and they form families for the same reason everybody else does. The legal incentives of natural birthrights to citizenship and our opposition to breaking up families for deportation may be useful bonuses, and perhaps may motivate a few. But I've yet to understand or see it demonstrated that immigration in our modern time is fundamentally different in its forms or its motivations than it was 100 or 200 years ago. Lots of single men (and in some cases women) come over to work and send remittances back for their families to come here themselves or to live at home in greater comfort than was possible, often at great sacrifice to their own individual happiness and comfort. Lots of families come here to form new lives with the promise of opportunities through education, private property ownership, and better work and lifestyle options. Of what right is it of ours, as the children or descendants of immigrants ourselves, to close and wall off these opportunities as we see fit?

If you really want to restrict immigration, getting rid of a birthright to citizenship may reduce some incentives by placing yet another speed bump in the legal machinery that we force immigrants to navigate to get here and to stay here legally. But all that does is continue to encourage people to migrate here illegally to sidestep the inconveniences of that machinery toward their ambitions. It will make it easier to deport some people yes, but it has to be demonstrated to me that we have a compelling reason to deport them first. Or that such deportations will improve the quality of life for the people deported or, more pressing I'm sure to most Americans, the people of this nation. Since it is largely an academic thought experiment anyway (I see no great upswell of support to overturn jus soli even through popular support, much less through the machinery of the Constitution and Congress or the Senate especially), it also leaves us to wonder about the practicality of then denying to hundreds of thousands of children, the sons and daughters of immigrants, their natural birthrights without the due process required to strip someone of their US citizenship. I do not think it practical to overturn the "contractual" arrangements under which they operated, in many cases for years or even decades.

In principle I might agree that being born in a place is a silly way to determine your loyalties to principles and standards. In practice, it is a fantastic way to integrate new and often very diverse populations into an existing country. Overturning that principle of jus soli and replacing it with a more active determination of citizen status may have some appeal to a strange mixture of people who are anti-nationalist (by allowing people to assert their national allegiances or destroy them only through active measures) and those who are ultra-nationalist (by restricting access to nativist populations or absurd processes to determine national status lasting many years and consisting of many legal hoops), but it has little utility as measured against the benefits of immigration. Nor does it defeat the essential motivations which encourage it in the first place.

The biggest problem I have with it is on what basis are we to restrict liberties and give power to government to control who may be admitted into our society? On what grounds do we have that power and why?
Post a Comment