Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced this week that he wants to abolish "Birthright Citizenship." Naturally, the other lemmings in the race -- who seem anxious to follow him over the cliff -- promptly announced their agreement with the idea.
What none of them seems to understand is that without Birthright Citizenship a large majority of all Americans would be subject to deportation.
At issue is the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted in 1868.
"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 purpose of that language was to protect the rights of newly-freed slaves and others from spurious claims that they were not real Americans. The audacity of urging the repeal of that Amendment is nauseating. The 14th and 15th Amendments are arguably the only tangible benefits to emerge from the bloodiest war in American history, but Messrs. Trump, Cruz, Walker, Jindal, Graham, Santorum, and the others are willing to toss aside all of those hard-won rights.
Aside from everything else, repeal of Birthright Citizenship would likely blow up in the faces of its proponents. Right now, you can establish that you are a citizen by simply producing a birth certificate proving you were born in the United States. It's a simple, non-invasive process that most Americans can comply with rather easily.
But if the repeal-crowd gets its way, your birth certificate would not be enough. Mere longevity wouldn't be enough either -- the anti-Birthright crowd wants to deport entire families that have lived here for two generations. No, you would have to have papers proving that either you or your parents were in the country legally. You might be able to do that if your family had recently come to the United States and become naturalized citizens. But there's an irony in that -- only recent immigrants could prove their citizenship that way. And these, of course, are some of the very people that the anti-immigrant crowd wants to deport.
But what about the vast majority of Americans whose families have been here for generations? Just exactly how do they prove that they are here legally? Will 300 million Americans have to traipse down to some government office and produce a maze of paperwork showing that their parents were documented residents of the U.S.? If they all try to do it simultaneously, that will be quite a line. The whole process might create a bureaucracy that would dwarf the Pentagon.
And what would you bring for proof? If my situation is typical, the task would be almost impossible. I was born in Oakland, California, and I have a birth certificate to prove it. But under Mr. Trump's rules, that would prove nothing.
My father was born in Oakland as well, but his birth certificate was wiped out in a basement flood in the Alameda County Building about 95 years ago. The county has issued a substitute certificate, but any red-blooded "Birther" would sniff his nose at that kind of a document and claim it was inadequate. But even if I did have the original of my father's birth certificate, what difference would that make under Mr. Trump's new policy? My father never went through a process to become a citizen any more than I did. He didn't think he had to. If we change the rules now, his citizenship would be on just as shaky a ground as mine.
And what about my grandfather? There's a ship's manifest from the 1870s that seems to show that he was a passenger on a boat from Italy. Other than that, there are only a few census records showing that he lived in New York City before moving to Oakland. But citizenship papers? Not a one. Over the years I've made repeated requests to various federal and state agencies and have always gotten back the same response: they have no record of him. Like probably millions of other immigrants, he simply lived out his life in this country with no papers at all.
If you're keeping score on this, our family's total under Mr. Trump's new rules would be three generations of illegal immigrants stretching out over about 130 years (and if you add in my children and grandchildren, it could go on a lot longer).
(Perhaps a little warning is in order to Mr. Trump and the other candidates: Are you certain that there is someone among your ancestors who has ever gone through the process of being naturalized as a U.S. citizen? Just curious. Maybe we to ought to check your papers.)
So for the hundreds of millions of Americans who are in the same situation as me, I suppose we should start thinking about where we will go when we are deported. My case is a little trickier than most. My grandfather was born in The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a country that ceased to exist after the unification of Italy.
Maybe I should just plan on sailing around the oceans on a cruise ship for the rest of my life.