California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Birthright citizenship is essential

The United States is established on a system that privileges white male Americans over any other ethnicity, race, or gender group. This can most clearly be seen in the mistreatment of African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants. 

However, in 1968, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted within the Constitution, and in it the Citizenship Clause established that birthright citizenship would be guaranteed to anyone born on U.S. territory. Abolishing this notion would further perpetuate classist, xenophobic and racist attitudes that already play a prominent role in American politics. 

According to an article written for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the debate of birthright citizenship has been a topic of discussion since the 1860s, as its very existence contradicts the establishment of the U.S.

Per the article, the U.S. has always valued foreign labor and the increase in population from the offspring of immigrants. Examples of this can be traced back to the Triangular Trade in the 18th century, when slaves and their children were sold to wealthy white landowners, and most recently the mass use of Latino immigrants in field picking jobs.

The bottom line is that immigrants contribute significantly to the economy and labor force within the U.S. and have since the colonial inception of it.

Today, the topic of birthright citizenship has been heavily used in modern politics to demonize immigrants and refugees, particularly on the Southern border. 

In 2023 during his bid for re-election, former President Donald Trump promised “to end automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to immigrants in the country illegally,” according to a Reuters article. 

Many of Trump’s remarks, policies and speeches directly targeted Latino immigrants and created a dangerous rhetoric that can be seen in several political debates almost a decade after his initial election. 

Most recently, Republican party presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy participated in an interview with NBC in which he openly discussed favoring the abolishment of birthright citizenship. However, Ramaswamy’s parents themselves are immigrants. Meaning, that he gained citizenship because he was born on U.S. land, though he likes to make the distinction that his family is different because they immigrated legally.

This then creates a discussion regarding what differences exist between families like his and other immigrants. The answer is quite simply the fact that they had access to an array of resources that allowed them to go from their home country to the U.S. via socially acceptable means. In other words, they were privileged. At least to some degree.

But then you have undocumented immigrants, who have been largely associated with Latin American countries, fleeing from violence and economic hardships. They don’t have the same resources, and unlike their counterparts, are vilified for it. 

“I want to be very clear about this. I think that birthright citizenship does not and should not apply to the kids of parents who entered this country illegally,” Ramaswamy said.

In other words, Ramaswamy uses a series of coded language to perpetuate xenophobic and racist ideologies, purposefully singling out the children of undocumented immigrants who were born on American soil. 

More specifically, Ramaswamy’s ideologies and word phrasing play dangerously into the world of coded racism. Its contents are prominently seen on media platforms so much so that society has generally become desensitized to it. 

Assistant Professor of Political Science Kiku Huckle, said coded racism has been used in the discussions of birthright citizenship. 

“Coded racism is really a way that we’d start talking about upholding beliefs, behaviors, policies, and laws that are consistently detrimental to people in communities of color and or are consistently unfairly beneficial to white communities. This is because our government was literally built to privilege white males specifically,” Huckle said. “And the rest of society has then been built around that because of the laws that we have.” 

Political Science Professor Gregory K. Freeland believes that modern-day politicians have begun misconstruing the notion of birthright citizenship.

“In modern-day politics, it’s gone far beyond the Fourteenth Amendment, which was the original intention. It was to make sure that the freed slaves were considered to be citizens, which they weren’t before in the Civil War,” Freeland said. “But now, in contemporary times, that same thing could be misused by people.” 

The article, “Why Republicans Keep Calling for the End of Birthright Citizenship” by Martha S. Jones in The Atlantic, provides a startling list of Republican candidates who have made remarks about ending birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. From Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to presidential candidate Nikki Haley, almost every well-known Republican politician has some comment to make on the issue.

However, despite their best efforts to paint the issue as merely a concern for the influx of immigrants in the U.S., this alleged issue is nothing more than a xenophobic rhetoric masked as a false concern for the well-being of the U.S. 

“Immigration is also used as coded language because what we often mean when we talk about immigrants is somebody who is perpetually other, and that is a designation that we tend to readily apply to communities of color who aren’t actually in fact immigrants,” Huckle said. “A lot of times in politics, people will talk about the Latino community as the immigrant community because yes, there are strong ties to immigration, however, two-thirds or more of the Latino community are not immigrants.”

Huckle said when discussing notions like birthright citizenship, discussion tends to create a false equivalency between Latinos and immigrants. According to Huckle, this is another form of coded racism that is implicitly spread amongst the public. 

Furthermore, all discussions of ending birthright citizenship use phrases such as “illegal” and “aliens.” This wording only further serves to “other” the Latino community as they are often the targets of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Moreover, a white person is not someone’s first image of an immigrant. Western Europeans, Canadians, and other white people are hardly ever subject to the same abuse that immigrant communities of color are. 

An article in by Charles Kamasaki talks about systematic immigration within the U.S.

“Examining immigration policy through a systemic racism lens reveals that today’s largely Latino undocumented immigrants face far harsher consequences than white Europeans of years past for the same exact offense of unauthorized entry. A system that treats immigrants differently solely to their race is essentially the textbook definition of structural racism,” Kamasaki said.

This then begs the question of legality and how legal, or illegal, an individual can be on non-Native land. 

In 2017, phrases such as “no one is illegal on stolen land” or “no band on stolen land” were popular phrases that gained traction on several social media platforms. Spearheaded by Native American activists, the movement intends to publicly call out immigrant bans from Western powers such as the United States. 

Growing up, many of us were taught that in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean and founded what is the present-day United States. However, with age came history lessons that exposed the brutal reality of his journey. He did not discover the Americans, a generation of native individuals had already been living on this land for centuries. 

Thus was born the phrase “stolen land” and today, this is used to defend immigrants and their inherent right to seek better living conditions. 

After all, colonizers originally came to the Americas in the 13th century seeking prosperity, and their children make up a large portion of what we consider true Americans. Every person born in this country obtained their own documented status via some form of immigration whether that can be traced as recently as 2012 or as far back as 1516. 

Birthright citizenship and an individual’s right to it are inherently American values. This policy is hardly seen in other countries, where most citizens have to apply for citizenship regardless of birth location.

“Most of the rest of the world don’t have it like this,” Freeland said. “The Western hemisphere–I think the only country in South America that doesn’t grant it in some kind of way is Colombia. Over on the side, Africa, Asia, Europe you know, you got to work your way in. There is no automatic citizenship just because you’re born there on that soil.” 

Freeland said given the current political climate, abolishing birthright citizenship could be a possibility in the U.S. in the future. He provides the classic example of immigrants taking American jobs and breaks down the logic of the arguments. 

“People tend to start picking on other people and that’s a reason why it happens,” Freeland said. “No one wants to separate the parents from the child so the only way to solve [these issues] is to make it so the child, if the child is born here to undocumented people, would not be a citizen.” 

Ultimately, it can be debated that immigration policies today target a very specific demographic within the U.S. The very notion itself implies that certain groups are somehow more deserving of citizenship than their POC counterparts. Not only that, but it unjustly perpetuates racist ideals onto communities of color and villainizes an arguably inherent human trait; the desire to seek better opportunities. 

“People are people are people,” Huckle said. “To say that some people are more deserving of a safe place to live because they ‘came the right way’ without acknowledging that our system is inherently broken and makes it almost impossible for a lot of people to come the ‘right’ way, that’s something that needs to be named very explicitly.” 

The way in which Trump, De Santis, Ramaswamy and several other politicians have demonized immigration and targeted communities of color should be openly labeled what it is; xenophobia. 

Thus, I implore the greater public to ask themselves the following question when listening to debates on immigration or talking about the issue themselves; If a large population of undocumented immigrants were white, would these same notions be questioned?

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    Bill FortenberryNov 29, 2023 at 10:11 am

    Ramaswamy’s claim is a blatant denial of the Constitution. The 14th Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship to everyone born in America except the children of foreign diplomats, and that has been America’s official policy since we gained our independence.

    I’ve found documents confirming this that go as far back as 1796. You can read them for yourself in my new book The Birthright: A History of Citizenship in America available now on Amazon.