Trump’s Bête Noire: Citizenship of Us-Born Children of the Undocumented

Undocumented immigrants’ children born in the US have become Trump’s latest foe. He does not believe that these US children hold valid citizenship despite the fact that since they were born in the US they receive citizenship automatically, a right granted by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Donald Trump

He put it as follows:

I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree — but many of them agree with me and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.

In his usual rambling manner, he does not name any of the “very, very good lawyers” nor does he elaborate his reasons for saying that these children are not US citizens by birth. Trump is not one to quibble over “details”: The children are not citizens because he says so, because the “incompetent idiots in Washington are wrong” as always.

An article in the Washington Post outlines the flaws in Trump’s proposal:

He leaves out what is perhaps the most important detail: Such change would be very difficult as it would require the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which would take require the approval of 75 percent (or 38) of the state legislatures, an unlikely event. There have been 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution in the entire history of the United States, and only 27 succeeded.

Even Trump sycophant Ted Cruz admits the difficulty of changing Constitutional amendments. According to birthright supporters, ending it would have catastrophic consequences:

Supporters of birthright citizenship say there are a number of reasons it should be maintained. It’s part of the Constitution. Attempts to restrict it have historically been motivated by racist fears of immigrants and their children. Ending it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. The most extreme consequence would be a massive group of stateless people — neither citizens in the U.S. nor in foreign countries.

These warnings do not seem to have much on an impact on other Republicans, particularly the candidates for the Presidential nomination:

This week, several of Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, echoed his call to end automatic citizenship for the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, repealing a constitutional right dating from the Civil War era.

Public opinion about birthright citizenship is mixed. A Wall Street Journal /NBC poll found that 43% of Republicans in the sample said that the U.S. should work to find and deport people who have come to the U.S. illegally. However, a survey of a sample of 2,002 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center in May, 2015, found that 72 percent of respondents believed that

Undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.

Public opinion may be divided, but the effects of the anti-birthright campaign have been dire. Some children in Texas are unable to secure the birth certificates they need to enroll in school:

At issue is the health service agency’s Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, and its refusal to honor various foreign identifications from immigrant parents. Many Mexican immigrants receive identification cards commonly known as matriculas, which are issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States. But officials [in Texas] have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally to obtain birth certificates for their children.

To sum up: Trump is stirring up more anti-undocumented immigrant rhetoric through an attack against a Constitutionally-given right, birthright US citizenship. Trump, always the sophist, contends that children of undocumented immigrant born in the US were never citizens, an idea he claims is supported by “very good lawyers,” whom he fails to identify.

In fact, the only way to eliminate birthright citizenship is to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, something practically impossible because bringing about such repeals are very difficult, as shown by thousands of attempts have failed in the past. The “bottom line” is that Trump is stirring up a controversy that has no practical purpose. The only result is that undocumented parents find it very difficult to obtain the birth certificates their children need to enroll in school. How Trumplike: Being a loose cannon and disregarding its consequences.

No citizenship? No worries, Uncle Sam needs you. (Pt.1)

Prolonged occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have created enlistment problems for the U.S. military. Extended tours, increased numbers of these tours, and a crunch to meet enlistment quotas are a few examples of troubles facing the military. In response to this dilemma, politicians and various branches of the military have taken up innovative enlistment practices to fix what could be broken. This scenario has translated into recruitment aimed at specific targets. After all, it’s not just anyone who serves the armed forces.

Uncle Sam
( Creative Commons License photo credit: Nevada Tumbleweed )

Who comprises America’s frontline?

Jorge Mariscal (2007) contends that “disenfranchisement” is the most apt word to describe why youth enlist, particularly from communities that are predominantly poor and comprised by people of color. These groups find themselves in unique, vulnerable positions. With few education and career options, less access to the legal system, and even fewer guaranteed social rights, many view the military as a stepping stone to making the best out of a bad situation. For many, it is a path to upward mobility. For some, it is the only path.

Such vulnerability to enlistment raises critical questions about sacrifice for this country. Namely, who has to? As reported by Segal and Segal (2004)[pdf], 200,000 new annual enlistees must be enrolled for the military to maintain its current size. Nearly all these recruits are either black or Latina/o, recent high school graduates, have parents with little education, or do not have immediate plans of entering college.

Being all that you can be given a Latina/o ethnicity

When it comes to U.S. militarism, some sacrifice more than others. One of the largest-growing groups vulnerable to enlistment includes Latina/os. Since 1985, the percentage of Latina/os in the military has nearly tripled – surpassing more than 11 percent of the military (see Lundquist 2008).

It is further worth noting the placement of Latina/os within the military. Much like blacks, they occupy lower statuses. Latina/os are much more likely to occupy infantry positions, and therefore see combat during these times of war and occupation; also, they are underrepresented nearly threefold in officer positions comprising only four percent of all military officers (Segal and Segal 2004)[pdf]. As these trends show, Latina/os are increasingly relied upon to perform the dirty work of U.S. militarism.

While the general Latina/o population faces numerous vulnerabilities in terms of military recruitment, a particular segment of this group faces unique, and perhaps more dire, circumstances.

No citizenship? No worries.  Uncle Sam needs you.

Though conservative narratives might have you believe Latina/o non-citizens abuse social services and “take ‘Amurkan’ jobs,” quite the opposite is true. Their contributions yield solutions to military problems. (This is very much a parallel situation to Social Security: Latina/o non-citizens bail out services they will not receive benefits from.) Despite such whitewashed narratives, this group plays a vital role in today’s military. And policymakers are well aware of this.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, policies have been created and revised to enlist non-citizens. Take the No Child Left Behind Act for example. This legislation has extended a helping hand to recruiters by placing certain stipulations on schools receiving federal funds. Such schools are required to release student information to recruiters, unless parents sign a little-known, little-publicized form specifying otherwise.

Shortly after the passing of NCLB, President George W. Bush issued an executive order[pdf], that further opened the borders for non-citizen enlistment. It provides an expedited path to citizenship by declaring non-citizens eligible for naturalization after one day of active-duty service.

Congress joined in the action with the passage of the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act[pdf]. This law reduced the peacetime waiting period from three years to one in effort to streamline the application process to citizenship.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security revised several requirements for prospective enlistees, expanding the possibility of who could be recruited. Now, the military can waive requirements of citizenship or resident status if such an enlistment serves broadly defined interests of national security.

Taken together, these policies have helped expand the number of non-citizen enlistees[pdf], as reported by the DHS. Since 2001, the number of non-citizen service members filing for naturalization, receiving naturalization, or being denied naturalization has increased more than 700 percent.

It should be noted, however, that these figures are not broken down by nationality. But according to data reported by the Center for Naval Analysis (2005) [pdf], Latina/o non-citizens undoubtedly comprise most of these numbers. Seven of the top ten birth countries for non-citizen service members are Latin American, with Mexico being home for most.

Perhaps Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock (2009)[pdf], best summarizes the current situation:

“Over the past eight years, Congress [and other federal entities have] amended military-related enlistment and naturalization rules … encouraging recruitment of immigrants into the U.S. armed forces. Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet its recruiting goals” (p. 4).

Tomorrow, part two on the vulnerability of Latina/o non-citizens to military recruitment.

~Kasey Henricks, Ph.D. Student, Department of Sociology, Loyola University Chicago (The author wishes to thank Ana Moreno, Stephanie Coward, and Dave Campbell for their critically helpful comments on earlier drafts.)

Immigrants and Citizens Alike Affected by Immigration Reform

The immigration policy debate is not solely about the fate of immigrants, or of non-citizens. The outcome of these debates and any measures enacted under the guise of immigration reform will affect United States citizens. In the contemporary United States, any policy that has negative implications for immigrants inevitably also will have negative consequences for citizens. This is because, in many ways, there is not a clear boundary between non-citizens and citizens nor between immigrants and citizens.

Some US citizens are immigrants, and some non-citizens will become citizens. In addition, most non-citizens have citizen family members. As Fix and Zimmerman point out, fully:

“85 percent of immigrant families (i.e. those with at least one non-citizen parent) are mixed status families. The meaning of this is clear: most policies that advantage or disadvantage non-citizens are likely to have broad spillover effects on the citizen children who live in the great majority of immigrant families” (emphasis in original).

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with handling the transition of the foreign-born either into citizenship or into leaving this country. As indicated on the DHS official website, the mission of the DHS is as follows:

We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free-flow of commerce.

The primary mission of the DHS is to protect citizens from terrorist attacks. This projection involves protecting the borders, and enforcing laws in the interior, but at the same time, welcoming lawful immigrants and visitors and international commerce. For the DHS, lawful immigrants are potential citizens, whereas unlawful immigrants are unwelcome.  The DHS is charged both with enabling immigrants to become citizens and ensuring that those who are not eligible for citizenship are appropriately regulated.

Although the DHS is clear on its intent to regulate non-citizens and to protect citizens, it is not possible to divide the US into two discrete parts – citizens versus non-citizens. It is perhaps more useful to draw a divide between the foreign-born who are eligible for citizenship and those who are not. The foreign-born who are eligible for citizenship include legal permanent residents who have been in the US for several years, and have not violated US laws. Those who are not eligible for citizenship include most undocumented migrants, tourists, students, refugees, and non-citizen who have violated certain US laws.

Non-citizens who are convicted of a wide range of legal violations not only are ineligible for citizenship, but also face deportation. The legal violations that render non-citizens deportable include violent crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. However, they also include minor crimes such as crossing the border without inspection, shoplifting, resisting arrest, and tax evasion. A US citizen who commits similar crimes faces the appropriate charges, serves any time sentenced, and goes about his or her life. A non-US citizen who commits these crimes faces deportation to his or her country of birth. In this sense, the law is clear as to the different nature of punishment for citizens versus non-citizens. The impact, however, is often felt by citizens. When a non-citizen is deported, his or her family often suffers greatly.

People who are not US citizens and are thus subject to deportation often have US citizen family members. They also often live in communities with US citizens. Some may have been in the country for a few days, but others have settled here and have been here for decades. Their deportation can be a tragedy for those left behind. For this reason, the immigration policy debate cannot take a narrow look simply at migrants, but must also take into consideration the significant impact on citizens, as well as recognize that immigrants and citizens are not mutually exclusive categories, but often stages in a person’s migrant career.