Last year controversy erupted over Arizona’s refashioning of immigration laws that provided for more state assistance in enforcement. That matter is pending in the courts, even as Louisiana has a similar law that goes farther than Arizona’s in most respects and is much like existing federal law.
As this gets hashed out in courts that may last well into the 2012 election cycle, another issue is gaining prominence: proposing the end of birthright citizenship, or the interpretation that anybody born on U.S. soil not under the actual jurisdiction of another country is a U.S. citizen. Opponents of ending this interpretation argue this is divisive and makes children of illegal immigrants suffer consequences of their parents’ actions, while proponents of the change point out the current situation rewards lawbreaking, encourages illegal immigration, and violates the spirit of current immigration laws (through the creation of “anchor babies,” by birth American citizen children who then years later may use that to bring into the country an unlimited number of relatives who otherwise never would qualify for residency).
States cannot constitutionally write their own policies on defining citizenship. However, they can lobby the Members of Congress either to make legal changes and/or press for a constitutional amendment to do so. Louisiana should join the fray as changing the current interpretation would produce more policy options in how to deal with the problems of illegal immigration. For example, European states do not follow this policy but instead offer paths to citizenship for the children (and their parents) which could be part of a broader overhaul of current U.S. policy. That option remains unavailable under the current interpretation.
But before any such effort can effect policy change, the unresolved nature of how do it confounds advocates. While some argue this change requires a Constitutional amendment, which legislators in 14 states appear willing to pursue, a more informed and less selective reading of the 14th Amendment and its history reveals that statute could bring it about, even as that would face a challenge and ultimately go to the Supreme Court to reverse its precedent that created the concept of birthright citizenship.
Politically speaking however, at least for the next couple of years, this would prove impossible with Democrats still clinging to power in the Senate and occupying the White House, as their strategy is to not discourage illegal immigration in the hopes that their preference for multicultural rather than a distinct set of American values and in their dispensing generous government benefits will disproportionately attract votes of this group if some simplistic, incomplete immigration policy change such as amnesty comes about to make illegal aliens citizens. Thus, from some reformers’ perspective, the amendment route seems more promising in the immediate term and would avoid any court involvement that could negate statutory efforts.
On behalf of their constituents, Louisiana’s Members should pursue the statutory change, while state policymakers should join the battle for an amendment (which if enough states get on board would force Congress to act). Its federal officeholders also need to support efforts as part of this to overhaul immigration law that provides no amnesty, increases temporary documentation for guest workers, and makes the path to citizenship more demanding (such as knowledge of English), and increase enforcement (hopefully with cooperation of the states with the successful upholding of Arizona’s new law).
Part of the last goal for Louisiana should include something like HB 1205 from last year’s session. Authored by state Rep. Joe Harrison, it would mandate that each Louisiana agency and each of its political subdivisions to verify the lawful presence in the United States of any natural person fourteen years of age or older who has applied for state or local public benefits. To varying degrees, all returning Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation have backed stricter enforcement and no amnesty.
Pressing issues, especially budgetary matters, will occupy the attention of policy-makers at all levels of government. Regardless, striving for these solutions should be a priority.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:45