The Real Anchors

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.