Confessions of a birthright citizen
I am an invader.
Actually, the son of “invaders.” But with presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis having taken aim at the 14th Amendment’s explicit creation of birthright citizenship, it’s clear that “invader” by association is enough to lump me in.
I’m the U.S.-born son of Mexican immigrants. My parents emigrated separately, met in this country, married and had three sons. They were undocumented until I was in grade school.
The Republicans’ invasion rhetoric is not new. It was a winner for Trump in 2016.
The opportunists who are stirring up hatred of immigrants recognize the enduring resonance of this alleged infestation – as Trump has also called it – among GOP primary voters.
Even if President Joe Biden wins reelection, scapegoating immigrants will continue.
Biden bested Trump in 2020 by more than 7 million votes – and 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232. But many of us still had to reconcile ourselves to the fact that some 74 million Americans!!! voted for a visibly corrupt liar who demonstrated great affinity for racists, white nationalists, nativists and others who later attempted a coup at his urging.
Disheartening doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.
Anti-immigration bias has been with us for a while. Let’s see, there was the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798; in the 1850s, the nativist Know-Nothing Party; the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; the Immigration Act of 1924 with quota preferences for white immigrants; and, in 2015, Trump unleashed a broad vilification of Mexican immigrants. He then won the presidency.
Not all the targets of anti-immigrant bias in our history were Asians or brown people generally. The Irish, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans have all been cast as dangerous and unworthy to live among us.
A nation of immigrants? Sure, but our memories are so faulty on this score.
There is still an immigration divide. Republicans focus on the enforcement part of immigration policy – the border and deportations – and Democrats want comprehensive reform that includes a legal path to residency for those here without documents.
As a wave of asylum seekers strains social services in New York and Chicago, Biden has directed federal money to build more of Trump’s border wall, succumbing to the political heat. We need Democrats and Republicans alike to work toward a real solution – comprehensive immigration reform that acknowledges the hard-working undocumented immigrants who are essential to the U.S. economy and deals with the root causes that drive people to flee murderous repression and economic hardship in their countries of origins.
Instead, here we are again with presidential aspirants using immigrants as a punching bag.
The lack of self interest in our immigration policies simply stumps me.
Consider: There is underway a ballooning of the retiree population with fewer working-age adults left to, well, work and pay into Social Security.
Immigrants can fill this gap to the benefit of all.
But gaining legal entry under current policy is so arduous to the point of impossibility that many just come and take their chances on deportation. The lure: U.S. employers who are eager to hire them.
Of course, we could be just as hard on immigrant-hiring employers as we are on the immigrants they hire. Instead, we reserve our animus for undocumented immigrants.
These employers know what too many others don’t – immigrants have higher work participation rates than do the native born (and lower crime rates, too).
We could, out of simple self-interest, enact comprehensive immigration reform. But this is not likely to happen soon because of our never-ending culture war.
Ominously, immigrant-bashing has expanded to include a call for the end of birthright citizenship.
The libertarian CATO Institute notes a key benefit of birthright citizenship. It speeds up the assimilation of immigrants. I would add, we get Americans who are perhaps more grateful to be Americans than Americans born of American citizens.
Hence, me. A college educated, mucho taxpaying, birthright citizen, who is also a U.S. Navy veteran and has been working past age 70.
The title Americans suits us birthright citizens just fine.
This commentary was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner, a States Newsroom affiliate.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.