Well, the government class is up in arms over Senator Grahamnesty’s suggestion that we amend the 14th Amendment to end the practice of so-called “anchor babies” and automatic birthright citizenship for non-citizens. But perhaps the problem with the senator’s suggestion is that it doesn’t go far enough. One of Don Rumsfeld’s pearls of wisdom was that when a problem seemed unsolvable, the solution could be to enlarge it. Perhaps it’s time to rethink not just birthright citizenship, but citizenship in general, and what it means.
Part of the problem with illegal immigration is the concern (legitimate, in my opinion) that it is being cynically used as a means to expand the political power of those who refuse to do anything about it (and not just the Democrats, but perhaps even including Senator Grahamnesty, and certainly George W. Bush and Karl Rove) — they hope that if they grant the franchise to those millions here illegitimately, they will be rewarded by their votes in the future. There are obviously other concerns with uncontrolled immigration (e.g., increasing the labor supply and depressing the labor price for those born here), but the voting issue may be at the heart of the current political battle, particularly because many fear that once such a large block of newcomers is given the vote without adequate assimilation, they will take the country in a direction far different than that intended eleven-score years ago. We should consider separating out the issues of who can be here in general, and who can be a citizen.
In the science fiction novel Starship Troopers, the late great Robert Heinlein put forth a different notion of citizenship — not one of a birthright, but an earned status. In this view, more republican (and in better keeping with the intent of the Founders), he made a useful distinction between being a citizen and being a civilian. He made citizenship a separate issue from whether or not one is entitled to live and work in the country, or even receive its benefits (even including welfare). Perhaps to be a citizen should be defined as being able to partake in the running of the country, and those unwilling to do the things necessary to become one will have to accept the decisions of those who have done so, or find another nation in which to reside, one perhaps more congenial to their lack of civic responsibility. That is, citizens would be eligible to vote and run for or be appointed to public office — civilians would not.
In Heinlein’s formulation, two years of government service — sometimes, but not invariably, military service — was a requirement of citizenship. Some have mistakenly declared his notion fascist, but that is nonsense, as fascism is much more than militarism (assuming that one even accepts that Heinlein’s society was militaristic — I don’t necessarily). Economic collectivism and corporatism (things that would be unlikely in a Heinleinian society) are key features of it. And fellow SF author Spider Robinson long ago acquitted him of the charge.
And of course, there is no reason to accept Heinlein’s criteria to investigate the notion of citizenship as earned rather than birthright. It might be something as simple as demonstrating an understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship (including a knowledge of the principles and rules of the republic) and not being on the public dole. One of the problems that we have in this nation is representation without taxation — that is, a greater and greater number of people are net recipients of taxpayer funds while the numbers of productive taxpayers decline. If we reach the tipping point at which there are more of the former than of the latter, and they are allowed to vote, then the republic is lost, because, as Tocqueville warned almost two centuries ago, they will become a tyrannical majority, continuing to vote more for themselves from those who actually produce the wealth.
Getting back to the immigration issue, if it were my choice, I’d much rather grant citizenship to someone who was willing to brave a desert and river crossing to get to this nation, learn the language and the civics, and work for a living, than someone born here who takes the nation for granted and refused to accept those responsibilities. Who is more deserving of the vote — the immigrant who has worked for it, or the native who spurns its requirements and demands public largesse? Or worse yet, a native who gangs with others to prey on his own neighbors? Why should someone, regardless of their behavior and level of social responsibility, be a citizen of this great nation through the sheer luck of having been born here, when many other true Americans who weren’t born here but “got here as fast as they can” are not?
Note that this isn’t about civil rights, at least not the traditional negative rights as stated in the Bill of Rights. Both citizens and civilians would have rights to free speech, rights to fair trials, even rights to bear arms if they’re not felonious, but voting is not and should not be a right — it should be a privilege, because, as noted above, it’s one that many will otherwise abuse to the detriment of their fellow residents, should they not be responsible and willing to pull their own weight, choosing instead to rob them at the ballot box.
If we rethink the notion of what it means to be a citizen, and how to attain that state, the issue of “anchor babies” of non-residents will become moot. What we should be much more worried about, in this age of false entitlement, are the anchor natives who are sinking the country.