Updated: Jul 27, 2021
I received an email from Mr. Crowder (yes, that Crowder) a while back asking, "Do you support ending birthright citizenship?" I didn't answer said question via his link, because I don't think a simple "yes-no" answer can suffice such a loaded question (especially given what he does, even if I agree with him most times). Answering that question in such a simple fashion doesn't do the actual issue any justice, even when weighted against the possibility of "anchor babies" and illegal immigration. The issue at large doesn't merit simply a hyperbolic yes-no question, rather a discussion of what it means to be an American, and how we decide who gets to identify as such.
Let's begin with the current trend- that being born here confers citizenship the moment you pop from the womb. What are some potential downsides to such a system, and what are the inherent benefits to such a system? Downsides that are readily apparent stem mostly from the idea and occasional practice (if it can even be substantiated) of an adult giving birth to a child within the borders of the United States to "anchor" themselves within the country, and benefit from the inherent perks of remaining within the country. This isn't a downside due to the nationality or culture of the individual committing such an act, rather the downside is that the person who is "anchoring" themselves through the birth-right citizenship of their child is that they may have not put anything into the nation and cemented themselves within its fabric after first breaking one of the nations laws. While some would disagree that merely coming here illegally shouldn't be a crime, the individual hasn't, before their child was born, paid any taxes or any other debt to society before starting to benefit from the things those taxes are meant to support.
However, if we flip this idea on its head, the average high schooler hasn't done anything to merit instant citizenship either. Many never held jobs during their time as an adolescent, nor do many volunteer. They have yet to pay a debt to society to really have earned their place among the rest of us. This isn't to say that hey won't- just that many haven't yet. This makes it very difficult to draw a definitive distinction between them and the value they bring to society and illegal immigrants and the value they bring to society. This muddies the waters, and turns what we'd like to be a simple black and white issue into a grey one instead.
The very idea of earning a place within the nation isn't one that I hear very much. How would you do it? For an immigrant, it seems rather straight forward- have them learn our culture, take a test, and then they get to be an American. Even that though, is underwhelming and really doesn't make for an American citizen. It's a low bar, that is artificially inflated, and made to take years of processing just to get accomplished. There are probably some who like this method, as it "weeds out" potential problems, but there is no system like it in place for those high schoolers. They get the rights and citizenship even if they flunk out of high high school and end up homeless under a bridge addicted to meth. Why should we hold an immigrant to a higher standard than a young adult who was born here to parents who were born here? Shouldn't we hold everyone to the same standard?
This stands against the benefits to birth right citizenship, namely that in our nation many feel that earning a place in America shouldn't be a thing. "Let the immigrants come," seems to be the mantra for this class of people. "No borders, no walls, no USA at all" is chanted in marches. While I can understand the sentiment as we are all one human species, the concept is flawed in that the United States, like any other country, is a tribe, and people are inherently tribal. Therein lies the rub, and the reason why we expect more of the immigrant than we do the natural born- they aren't of our tribe. Entering a new tribe- whether it be the United States, or some primitive tribe somewhere else, requires a right of passage to show a true desire to be one of the tribe's members. Maybe that right of passage is learning the culture and proving you understand, maybe it's walking over hot coals barefoot while carrying a scepter and eagle egg. Whatever the tradition, it is in place to allow an outsider to become a member of their new tribe.
Personally, I think there should be a ritual to grant even our own flesh and blood the rights of the tribe of our nation. Education is important, as is knowing what the tribe's rituals and traditions are, yet there seems to be something lacking when we don't expect people to show their dedication to the tribe before granting them full access to all the benefits of being a member. Veterans don't have this problem for obvious reasons- they showed their dedication to the tribe by enlisting to defend it. But not everyone is built for or desires that kind of life, even if only for a short while. However, this concept isn't new- I know of a book first published in 1956 that explored this idea in depth, and made me a believer before I ever set foot on the yellow footprints.
"Starship Troopers" explores the idea of the citizen and the civilian in a way that makes sense to an impressionable 14 year old boy (that boy being me). It effected me so much that to this day I believe that the ideas put forward about citizenship are not only valid, but should be striven for today. Sacrifice, for the better of the whole, should be a right of passage to exercise the full rights of citizenship. It need not be in the Military, but it needs to be tough, and it needs to be 100% voluntary with no punishment for quitting (not failing- quitting. There is a difference which I'll suss out in the next post relating to this topic). Whether that's doing volunteer work for next to nothing in impoverished places within the country, or giving yourself over to medical experimentation for a set number of years, there needs to be some way for the individual to put the benefit of the whole before their own self interests, and the reward for that service (whatever it is) would be full citizenship- and the right to vote and hold office.
Yes, I am advocating that the right to vote and hold office should be tied to service of some kind. This would be the only two "rights" that would be tied to service, with all others being held by the people as they are now. Civilians would still benefit from all the other rights enumerated within the Constitution- only the ability to vote and hold office would be restricted and granted to those who commit to an act of public service for a set term of years- and only upon completion of that term of service. In Heinlein's novel, it's called "the franchise" and his arguments for it's exclusive use by those who have served the greater body politic are worth reading and considering, even if you ultimately disagree.
This, I believe, would solve the issue of birthright citizenship quite nicely. It would allow for us to take in immigrants rather easily, having them fill out some forms, undergo a simple background check, and then start paying taxes. This would be their first step toward citizenship. If they deigned to become full citizens, then they too could volunteer for service of some form, and earn their right to vote and hold office as well. Adolescents would retain their protections under the law, but wouldn't be arbitrarily granted the right to vote and hold office simply for graduating high school (literally a minimum requirement for most things, and a bar that seems to get lower by the year). Everyone- immigrant and natural born alike- would get the exact same legal protections under the law, but would need to earn their right to vote, to wield political power.
It has merit. Perhaps we should look into it further. Service guarantees citizenship.