The 14th amendment to the Constitution reads in part, "All persons born … in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States … . No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This language is unambiguous. If you're born in the United States, you are a citizen. Your citizenship does not depend upon your parents' citizenship or place of birth or permanent residence. Why, then, would anyone question the citizenship status of a person born in Des Moines or Detroit or Denver? If you're a Republican candidate for President, being a nativist might float your poll numbers, that's why.
Nativism is the political position of demanding favored status for established residents of a country over immigrants. As a rule, nativists tend toward anti-immigrant policies. Some modest examples of nativist policies include English-only resolutions, a position that more enlightened places in Maryland, like Frederick County, have moved away from. American history is marked by periods of opposition to Irish, German, Chinese, Eastern European, Catholic and Jewish immigration. The rationales for nativism usually run toward protecting the established culture or to keep cheap labor out of the country. Another argument, one frequently heard this year, is that immigrants come here to take advantage of a host country's welfare system.
In this presidential cycle, immigration and amnesty have become major issues for candidates of both parties. There is consensus among the candidates that the border must be made secure, ranging from Bobby Jindal's metaphorical high wall and Donald Trump's proposed brick and mortar wall to Jeb Bush's calls for comprehensive reforms. Tea Party candidates are more supportive of physically sealing the border, but as one observer put it, "Building a 12-foot wall will just increase the number of 13-foot ladders."
If preventing illegal immigration is one side of the coin, then the other side is dealing with illegals already in the country. Forging a path to citizenship would be difficult without being a partisan issue. The fight for control of the Republican party only accentuates differences among the candidates.
Front runner Trump is like Alice's White Queen, who sometimes believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. In his looking glass world, he would deport every illegal alien and then find an expedited return path for "the good ones." Trump also made an issue of birthright citizenship, the sticky bit of Constitutional protection granted to all people born within our borders. Characteristically, he took aim at pregnant Mexican women whom he claims cross the border just to deliver an American citizen in attempts to avoid deportation. Surprisingly, he did not go after those Mexican rapists who fathered American-born children. Scott Walker, in a rare moment of unprogrammed candor, agreed with Trump, saying the United States should "absolutely" end birthright citizenship, one more flop in a long series of the governor's flip-flops on amnesty and immigration policy. Walker later denied being a nativist. Ben Carson, another Tea Party hopeful, was quoted as saying, "it doesn't make any sense to me" that babies born in America are really American citizens. But it made very good sense to Republicans when they were the progressive Party of Lincoln.
Several candidates have taken positions more in line with the Constitution and against the Tea Party wing. Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee all oppose denying birthright citizenship. Jeb Bush seems to be straddling the issue, wishing to deny Constitutional rights only to "anchor babies."
It is amazing to see the casual ease with which many — if not most — Republican candidates are willing to disregard a part of the Constitution that happens to disagree with their overtly political agendas. Recent polls show that the base favors deportation over amnesty by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, and it's good politics to be on the same side as your party's primary voters. Occasionally, it's good policy. But blindly following polls is a bad way to formulate public policy.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com