In Saturday’s editorial, we consider an interesting point U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has raised about immigration policy.
In any complex system, the point of comprehensive policy reform - rather than a piecemeal approach - is to acknowledge that flaws in one part are often borne of other flaws elsewhere.
Whether you agree with health-care reform or not, this was its basic idea. If you require everyone to have insurance (most have it anyway, and most who don’t have it do want it), then hospitals will have fewer patients who don’t pay them, and so the money the government saves on reimbursing hospitals for uncompensated care can then be redirected to help more people afford health insurance.
Immigration reform was intended to work the same way. Crack down on unscrupulous employers so illegal immigrants will have less incentive to come here, secure the borders so it’s harder do so, then offer hardworking, law-abiding illegal immigrants a path to citizenship to bring them into the system.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham - who has become such a champion of the comprehensive approach that both Presidents Bush and Obama have looked to his leadership on it - has now added a new piece to the puzzle: birthright citizenship, which is plainly protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
“The purpose of the 14th Amendment in this area was to take citizenship determinations away from the states,” Graham recently explained to the Greenville News. “The fear was that the Southern states after the Civil War would deny citizenship to freed slaves so the constitutional amendment basically nationalized how you become a citizen.”
In other words, the amendment was not intended as part of our immigration policy. Graham is not proposing repealing it, either; the Constitutional amendment he supports would merely give Congress the right to regulate birthright citizenship. That legislation, he says, should still give the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship here, if they earn it. But at some point down the road, citizenship simply would cease to be automatic, and thus less of an incentive to come illegally.
Birthright citizenship is relatively common in the Americas (Mexico and Canada both offer it, as do a number of major South American nations), and relatively uncommon in Europe. But to simply deny citizenship outright to children born within a country’s borders could create a problem of its own, a class of children with no citizenship, so many developed countries do offer special naturalization consideration to children born there.
If ending birthright citizenship were done suddenly, by itself, out of some sort of angry punishment of “anchor babies” (as the xenophobes call them), it would be both cruel and unreasonable. But what Graham is suggesting is neither. If this part of our Constitution and our immigration policy no longer makes sense - if it is now in fact part of the immigration problem - Graham is perfectly right to question it. And if immigration reform requires a change to the Constitution, then it’s all the more reason for a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to the problem.
And as the escalation of the
conflict over immigration policy in