From Wisdom to Delusion
September 23, 2011 3 Comments
The 14th Amendment; from aliens to citizens
For 1 1/2 centuries the settlers of the American British colonies had a special relationship with their mother country. They and their off-spring were immersed in building a new world far from their ancestral origins. They were a part of that new world by birth in it, -attached to the colony where they were born. It didn’t matter if one was a peasant or member of the upper class, if one was a native of the King’s overseas territory, then one was a part of that territory, and not a part of the home country.
Within Britain itself, many civil rights had been secure through the centuries and they applied to peasants and the landed gentry alike, but the overseas territories weren’t covered by the laws of the motherland but by the law as administered by the King’s Governors. The colonies were somewhat like the territories owned by the United States which are not states and don’t have the rights and privileges of states but are administered by appointees from Washington or the U.S. military.
So the colonies were in a unique category within the growing British empire, within which all of the political rights of the freemen of England were never granted. They had limited rights, and only after the King tried to extract taxes to compensate for the costs of the French-Indian war, and the Americans rebelled, did they learn just how limited those rights were.
They found to their consternation that their colonial liberties were very deficient by comparison to their counterparts in the home country, and so they declared their independence from the autocratic dictates of the Crown.
After victory in the Revolution, not much changed in the new nation, including the practice of law. But one thing that did change was the feudal principle that anything born on the land belongs to the land owner, and so American citizenship was no longer based on that rejected principle but on the principle of natural law, as practiced in most other nations that were never a colony. By natural law one is the same as their parents, inheriting what pertains to them. In the political realm that means the children were automatically members of their parents’ nation, possessing the same citizenship as those who produced them. Citizenship via birth to citizens.
That was the principle followed by the United States government in relation to most native born persons. Natural law citizenship was just as simple and clear as that of belonging to the land (nation) where one was born except in cases where its application was not natural. Those cases were ones in which immigrants to America complicated the situation by having children. Assigning the citizenship of their fathers to them was the policy of the U.S. government. Their citizenship was foreign even though born in the United States, until their father became a naturalized citizen.
Not all immigrants were able or willing to complete the naturalization process, and as a result, their American born children were in citizenship limbo. They weren’t part of the nation of their father’s citizenship, which was also theirs, and were therefore aliens within their own country. That was an unnatural application of natural law. Fortunately, the 14th Amendment, written to give ex-slaves citizenship, was worded in such an inclusive way that native-born aliens also fit its declaratory language.
But that was not its intent as written and passed, so it was not interpreted differently than how it was intended. Consequently, the government continued its 80 year old original policy of assigning an immigrant father’s citizenship to his children for another 30 years until it was contested by Wong Kim Ark who was born to Chinese immigrants in the United States but declared by the State Dept. to not be a U.S. citizen when he returned home from a visit to China. He sued the government all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that he was a citizen, -based on the 14th Amendment. [“All persons born in the United States, or naturalized, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States”]
Their new interpretation was not without foundation, though its foundation, besides being in common sense, was in England where it was the policy of the Crown that they bore the same responsibility for national defense in event of invasion as the King’s natural subjects, so their children were deemed to be the King’s subjects and not aliens.
That decision changed the view of the government regarding how citizenship was to be ascribed to children of immigrants. What it didn’t do was to change the principle of how citizenship was to be ascribed to children of citizens, nor to children of foreign visitors, but that fact was not recognized by the public nor the legal profession. Instead the erroneous impression took hold that simply being born within the United States is all that is needed to become a U.S. citizen.
What they failed to recognized was the principle that the court applied to arrive at their ruling. It is the principle that immigration demonstrates a couple’s intention to be members of American society. That carries with it the same obligation to defend the nation as that of citizens. Therefore their children are born with the same obligations as citizens and thus are essentially the same as citizens. They (and their parents) can be drafted into military service and sent into deadly combat, and therefore deserve the benefit of the same citizenship as all of their peers.
But the common view has mistakenly overlooked the necessity of being born to legal immigrants, not simply born on U.S. soil, which signifies nothing, implies no intention to join American society, and carries no inherent obligations.
The Supreme Court was wise to rule that the 14th Amendment was the law of the land constitutionally, reasonably, and practically. They recognized that even a natural principle can have an unnatural result when applied in an unnatural situation, which emigration is. It’s not natural to leave ones own country and transplant oneself to a foreign nation. That carries with it a conflict of allegiance which is only resolved by evidence that one is intent on being more than a mere transient foreign visitor. That evidence is permanent legal residency. The Supreme Court did not rule that Wong was a U.S. citizen because he was born in the United States, but that he was a citizen by the 14th amendment because his parents were subject to U.S. jurisdiction, something that is not true of visitors, but is true of permanent resident aliens.
In issuing that “opinion of the court” they turned their back on and overthrew 110 years of U.S. policy in favor of a more just, humane, and practical policy, one that made far more sense for the present and the future because it eliminated the need of children of immigrants who never naturalized to have to naturalized themselves as adults simply to be accepted as a full member of their one and only country.
But the delusion grew that nothing other than U.S. birth alone is all that is required to be born as a U.S. citizen. Thus children born of illegal aliens are erroneously deemed to be citizens even if they are not legal residents, nor often, residents at all, but solely transients here to give birth and obtain U.S. citizenship for their child. The stupidity of this delusion can’t be exaggerated. But it is not the only delusion that is commonly held by the American public.
The other one is the delusion that all Americans can be President. Combine the belief that anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen with the belief that any citizen can be President and you have the most bastardized delusion in American life. In that fairy tale the child of an alien criminal or terrorist that is born within our borders is eligible to be the President, but John McCain would not be if he was not born on an American base in Panama but in a Panamanian hospital instead. It would be insane to think that the framers of the Constitution intended such an absurd policy.
What difference does it really make in anyone’s life? Well, it made a huge difference in the life of Barack Obama because it allowed him to run for and win the presidency of the United States even though he was not born to an American father, nor a permanent resident alien father, but a visiting alien, which means he is not a natural born citizen. His birth within the United States doesn’t change that fact even though the public and the press and many in government are deluded into believing that his native birth alone is enough.