Secular Right | Reality & Reason



It’s better in Europe, except when it’s not

Liberals in the United States love to laud European ways as a cudgel against American conservative exceptionalism. But they don’t admire all European ways, Ezra Klein on Lindsey Graham’s possible floating of a constitutional amendment to repeal birthright citizenship:

How then to explain Graham’s announcement — on Fox News, no less — that he’s stepping into the immigration issue with a proposal that’s much more divisive, and much more dangerous? “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here,” he said. “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake. … We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.”

Putting aside the cruelty of the position, which penalizes children for the sins of their parents, this is certainly “bringing up immigration.” And indeed, it’s trying to use birthright citizenship as a wedge issue against the Democrats. Worse, it centers the conversation on illegal immigration rather than the immigration system. That’s a much more toxic, and much less productive, conversation.

Many European states have restricted birthright citizenship within the last generation. It’s probably a corollary to a welfare state. I happen to agree with Will Wilkinson that birthright citizenship is probably a major impediment to any resolution of immigration flows where there has to be compromise, because the stakes are just too high for everyone involved.


  • JamesG · July 31, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Why are the stakes so high?

    If the constitution is changed any babies born in the future would have citizen status exactly identical to their parents.

    (In your last para shouldn’t “comprise” be “compromise”?)

  • Author comment by David Hume · July 31, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    james, when given the choice immigrants may not always choose to naturalize. in fact, historically many immigrants have only made temporary sojourns in the USA, and left for their homelands after saving up some money.

  • Randall Parker · July 31, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    JamesG, There’s literally a business in helping Chinese, Korean, and other East Asian women come to the US when pregnant, stay in a group home until birth, get the US birth certificate, and then go back to where they came from. How does this make the citizenship status of the kids identical to that of the parents?

    The kids grow up in Shanghai or Seoul like any other kid in those countries. But they’ve got this extra piece of paper that gives them dual citizenship.

    I think a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship is an excellent idea.

  • Rich Rostrom · July 31, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Randall Parker: It isn’t just east Asians.

    Mark Krikorian at NRO quotes from two e-mails he received on the subject.

    “While serving …in the Middle East … I came across countless cases of teenagers and young men (and women) who carried a U.S. passport but had never been in the U.S. outside of the 6 weeks … after being born.”


    “… in El Paso … at the city/county hospital … a fair minority of the deliveries were women crossing the border … when labor began … to obtain a US birth certificate.”

  • JamesG · July 31, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Randall Parker and (I think) David Hume:

    I’ll try again.

    Under the present law non-citizen parents remain non-citizens but any child of theirs born in the USA has US citizenship.

    If the Constitution is amended (which is what Graham wants and Ezra Klien is objecting to) that child would also be a non-citizen, possessing the same status as its parents.

    Such a change would be considered cruel only to people who want to game the system.

    Rich Rostrom, I once heard a Swiss (Swiss!) citizen brag about how he planned to have his middle-class Swiss wife give birth in the USA. His reasoning: eventually the entire family could migrate as relatives of a citizen.

  • John · July 31, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    I’m torn. On one hand, I also believe in ending birthright citizenship. On the other, without it, we wouldn’t have gotten Bruce Lee.

  • luke · August 1, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Only xenophobes would want to end birthright citizenship, as can be seen from the reasoning in evidence here: the only reason anyone has put forward for ending it is … wait, no reasons have been put forward.

    Yep, xenophobia.

  • Randall Parker · August 1, 2010 at 2:51 am

    Luke, Oooo. Calling us names. Well, that convinced me. That convinced me you feel morally superior for disagreeing with us.

  • Doug1 · August 1, 2010 at 8:34 pm


    If the parents aren’t legal immigrants their children born here shouldn’t automatically become citizens either. For it to be otherwise is simply an end run around immigration restriction, including restricting the Quality of our immigrants. Which we’re not doing with illegal Mexican, Central Americans and Haitians in particular.

    We shouldn’t be allowing any substantial amount of immigration of ethnicities we then feel we need to extend affirmative action to, rules such as the EEOC’s “disparate impact”.

  • cynthia curran · August 1, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    A good idea. Actaully, those born after a certain date would no longer autiocally become citizens. A 20 year old would still be grandfathered since there would have to be a comprised. This should have been done when Reagan did his amensty back in 1986, California and Texas would today probably have about 3 to 5 million less people that are low skilled. Lindsey Graham has always thought of legalizing them and this would be a good comprise to make certain that we would not have to have a lot of anchor babies like we did in the past.

  • luke · August 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    “quality of immigrants” – how is this not xenophobia. Anyone who views birthright citizenship as an end run around immigration restrictions. The people we’re talking about are citizens: do you now want to pick and choose among citizens to see which should keep their citizenship? Maybe we could set up citizenship panels that would make yearly determinations.

  • trajan23 · August 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm


    Every nation has the right to establish its own rules for citizenship. Does it bother you that American Indian tribes require proof of blood descent for membership? Does it offend you that Israel, for purposes of citizenship, traces descent via the mother and not the father?

  • trajan23 · August 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm


    I’ve got a solution that you should love. The USA should declare every person in the world a US citizen. After all, isn’t it unfair, if not xenophobic, to privilege the mere act of giving birth on American soil? How dare we discriminate against the countless billions who have not been able to arrange a delivery date visit to the US.

  • trajan23 · August 2, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    If that step is too extreme for you, how about allowing convicted rapists and murderers to become citizens? After all,since we don’t strip native-born people of their citizenship if they are convicted of a heinous crime, isn’t it xenophobic to deny citizenship to foreign born criminals?

  • Eugene · August 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    “. The people we’re talking about are citizens: do you now want to pick and choose among citizens to see which should keep their citizenship? ‘

    Thats kinda tautological isnt it? They are citizens because they are born in the US? The argument is that being born in the US should not grant people citizenship.

    So to pick and choose amongst citizens we just clearly demand that citizenship is not transferred to the parents of people born in the US, nor to the person born in the US if he hasn’t spent X amount of his formative years in the US. Say 10 out of 18.

    Someone who was born in the US, lived a day, and moved to Pakistan is no more American than I am a Frenchman. For the kinda of people who say that national loyalties are culturally bound that should be obvious. Birthright citizenship was decided upon in the days before the flying machines. If someone was born in Texas in 1842 he grew up in Texas. TImes change, and laws should change to reflect that reality.

  • Randall Parker · August 3, 2010 at 4:07 am

    Luke, Look up xenophobia. It means “a fear of foreigners or strangers”. Is that always irrational? Quite often fears are quite rational.

    The fear of seeing your country become dumber is certainly rational. There are large well-established average differences in IQ between the races. Chinese and Korean immigrants do great here on average. Ashkenazi Jews do incredibly well. But Amerinds do poorly just as their IQs would predict.

  • Old Whig · August 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Birthright citizenship is an Anglo Saxon Common law practice. In Civil and Germanic pats of Europe it has always been the bloodline of the mother that decides the citizenship.

    The Anglo Saxon change came with the dismantling of the colonies. Since a colonial citizens had British birthright they could in theory all move “back” to the homeland or any other dominion Canada, Australia etc.

    During the late 50s and early 60s Britain so an influx equal to the influx of (illegal) immigrants from Mexico to the US today. In Britain politicians like Enoch Powell, comparable to Tom Tancredo/Lou Dobbs/Joe Arpaio, became virulently anti immigrant and it seemed that UK would get a large and sustainable nativist political movement. To stop this Labour decided to shut the borders and chagne citizenship from birthright to bloodline. It wasn’t as such a symptom from of the welfare state but a symptom of trying to avoid the risk of radical nativism gaining political power.

    In the Nordic/Scandinavian countries the restrictions on immigration, no economic immigration is allowed, is solely due to the welfare state and Trade Unionism. Sweden has as a result for the first time in its history a nativist party close to ascending to the parliament, Sweden Democrats an old school version of social democracy combined with a strong anti Islam agenda. The want to get back to the 50s with strong growth and ethnic and cultural homogeneity aka “Family Values”. This is a softer but equally pernicious of xenophobia called “welfare chauvinism” a phrase coined by Manuel Castells.



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