Tancredo: Shred The 14th Amendment

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Writing for the Daily Caller, nativist crank Tom Tancredo argues that we're missing the big picture regarding the U.S. government's killing of terrorism suspect -- and U.S. citizen -- Anwar al-Awlaki:

Lost in this debate is whether al-Awlaki was ever really an American citizen.

Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico in 1971. Both of his parents were Yemeni citizens in the United States on student visas. As a child, he moved to Yemen along with his parents. He returned to the U.S. as an adult on a foreign student visa.

Under the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment, al-Awlaki is considered an American citizen. Section 1 of the amendment opens, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." The operative phrase is "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." During the ratification debates in 1866, Senator Lyman Trumbull, who was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that the phrase meant "not owing allegiance to anybody else" and that "partial allegiance if you please, to some other government" is disqualifying. It goes without saying that neither al-Awlaki nor his parents had any allegiance to America.

Anwar al-Awlaki was born in the United States. His parents were not in the service of a foreign government. Therefore, as laid out in the Constitution, he was an American citizen. Period. Full stop. QED.

What Tancredo describes as "the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment" is actually the historical interpretation going all the way back to Reconstruction and reaffirmed many times over by the courts. The only people who dissent from this established concept of American citizenship are post-birthers who refuse to give up the ghost regarding President Obama's citizenship, and anti-immigrant bigots (like Tancredo) who deliberately misunderstand the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" phraseology in order to argue against conferring citizenship on the children of undocumented immigrants.

Tancredo lays out that argument later in the op-ed:

Automatic birthright citizenship poses problems beyond the national security realm.

First, children who receive birthright citizenship are eligible for public education and most welfare programs -- at enormous cost to American taxpayers.

Second, it's difficult to deport illegal immigrants who have children who are U.S. citizens. Many liberals claim that using the word "anchor babies" to describe the American-born children of illegal immigrants is offensive, but these are the same people who insist we can't deport illegals who have American citizen children because it will split up families.

Finally, giving automatic citizenship to people who have children who were only born here because their parents broke the law cheapens citizenship for the rest of us.

Actually, granting citizenship to all those born on American soil -- regardless of the parentage -- makes it the great leveler in American society and ensures that it never comes to be more or less special for certain people based solely on the accident of their birth. It is the foundation American equality.

But Tancredo wants to get rid of all that. And while he notes correctly that this misguided push to end birthright citizenship "has largely disappeared from public discourse," it unfortunately has more support than many people realize.

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