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Birthright Citizenship Denial Helps Cause SE Asia Refugee Crisis, By Roger Algase.

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Update: May 14, 7:15 pm

The appalling inhumanity toward desperate refugees shown in some parts of the world continues with the news that Malaysia and Thailand are turning away hundreds, if not thousands, of starving boat people fleeing persecution in Burma who now face almost certain death after their boats were abandoned by smugglers.

The full report is available at the Huffington Post. See:

Refugee Crisis Looms As Malaysia, Thailand, Turn Away Hundreds Of Boat People

My original post follows:

Recently, Europe's inadequate response to the drownings of hundreds, if not over a thousand, of refugees trying to reach Southern Europe from North Africa was in the headlines. Now, another horrendous refugee crisis is in the news, this time in Southeast Asia:

The Guardian, among many other media covering this story, is running an Associated Press report dated May 12 from Langkawi Island in Malaysia, where more than 1,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees from Burma (Myanmar) have landed, only to face being turned away and sent back out to sea by the Malaysian authorities.

See: Malaysia says it will turn away migrants stranded at sea unless boats are sinking

The Guardian/AP report states:

"South-east Asia is in the grips of a spiraling humanitarian crisis as boats packed with Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees are being washed ashore, some after being stranded at sea for more than two months. [Emphasis added.]

As many as 6,000 asylum seekers are feared to be trapped at sea in crowded, wooden boats, and activists warn of potentially dangerous conditions as food and clean water runs [sic] low."

The report continues:

"One boat sent out a distress signal, with migrants saying they had been without food or water for three days..."
[Emphasis added.]

And also:

"Malaysia's announcement comes after Indonesia had also turned back a ship, giving those on board rice, water and directions to go to Malaysia."

Why are the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Burma, willing to risk winding up in such desperate conditions in order to find a new home?

The Guardian/AP report explains:

"Labeled by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in the Buddhist-majority Burma, where they have limited access to education and adequate healthcare.

In the last three years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live in apartheid conditions in crowded conditions just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe."

​And what is the legal status of this persecuted minority in their native country, Burma, from which they are so anxious to escape?

The Guardian/AP report informs us:

"At annual ASEAN meetings, the most recent, ironically on Langkawi - Burma has blocked all discussion about its 1.3 million Rohingya, insisting that they are illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though many of their families arrived generations ago."
(Emphasis added.)

The report also describes them as "effectively stateless".

Here is one example of the appalling suffering which can be caused by a nation's denial of birthright citizenship to a particular minority group which, for religious, racial or whatever other reasons, it does not want to accept into its society.

As I pointed out in my May 12 Immigration Daily post, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) states that one of his subcommittees is now looking into the more restrictive birthright citizenship practices of the great majority of the world's countries (except for those in the Americas, almost all of which follow the US practice of universal birthright citizenship, according to the Center for Immigration Studies).

Goodlatte's contention is that if so many countries restrict or deny the right to automatic citizenship through birth in the country's territory, there might be some good reason for this policy, which maybe America should consider adopting. The purpose, of course, would be to take away this Constitutionally-guaranteed right from millions of Latino and other non-white US-born children whose parents may lack legal immigration status - or may have legal visas without being permanent residents or US citizens themselves, as some members of his party are proposing.

While this may arguably be an extreme case, in a country which is not known for its adherence to democratic principles or respect for human rights, Burma's denial of citizenship rights to the Rohingya minority, even though born in that country with Burma-born ancestors going back for generations in many instances, has beyond any doubt contributed to the terrible circumstances that thousands of members of this persecuted group are experiencing now.

One might ask what Goodlatte has in store for the millions of American children whose 14th Amendment right to birthright citizenship (as upheld by a definitive Supreme Court ruling more than a century ago) he appears to be so interested in looking into ways and means of taking away.

Goodlatte might also wish to explain whether Burma's restrictions against birthright citizenship are among the foreign laws on this topic which he is so confident that America can benefit from studying or possibly even adopting as our nation's policy. However, I would not recommend that ID readers hold their breath waiting for Rep. Goodlatte to comment on this particular question.

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Updated 05-14-2015 at 06:15 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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  1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    Roger, is Burma your gold standard for the position that birthright citizenship should be denied to the children of undocumented aliens? If so, you should consider the rationale used by some of the other countries that have rejected such birthright citizenship. Burma is not a good model for any thing. See, for instance, I don't agree with the republican position on this issue, but I am pleased that the republicans are looking into the practice in other countries. Knowledge is not our enemy. The concern should be that so many people in the immigration policy area reject other ways of looking at things out of hand. If scientists had been so narrow minded, we wouldn't be having this debate on a computer blog. They would have accepted typewriters as the RIGHT way to communicate and never looked into other possibilities.
  2. Retired INS's Avatar
    I don't think we are in danger of amending the Constitution to abolish birthright citizenship. As you have pointed out, birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
  3. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    I don't think that Burma is anyone's model or gold standard for anything. But it is an (extreme) example of what can happen to any minority group of people who are born in a particular country but denied citizenship rights.

    By trying to reopen long settled doctrines of automatic birthright citizenship in the US, Goodlatte may be taking America down a very dangerous road that could impact our Latino and other minorities in much the same way that the Rohingya minority is being impacted by Burma. Fortunately, America is a long way from being Burma, but why take even the first steps down that road?

    Nolan also suggests that there might be some constrictive reasons for learning about other countries' approach to birthright citizenship. With all due respect to his own impressive record of legal scholarship, I think that is somewhat naive. The argument that many other countries (outside of our own hemisphere) do not grant universal birthright citizenship, so maybe America shouldn't either, is not being put forth as a matter of abstract theory. To the contrary, it is a talking point being promoted by anti-immigrant groups such as Numbers USA and Center for Immigration Studies, which are strongly committed to reducing America's legal and illegal immigrant population by any means possible.

    Depriving US born children of birthright citizenship for whatever reason, is an excellent way to accomplish that ideological goal.

    But my main concern with Rep. Goodlatte and his committee, is that that by trying to reopen the 14th Amendment and Wong Kim Ark, as his April 29th statement specifically says he intends to do, he is threatening to undermine two of the most important foundations of racial equality in America.

    The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to overturn the 1857 Dred Scott decision that US citizenship was for whites only. In the same way, rejecting the absurd and specious argument that the 14th amendment protected the citizenship rights of African-American people only, but not other minorities, Wong Kim Ark made clear that all ethnic groups were protected by the amendment, including Chinese immigrants, who were the targets of appalling discrimination at that time that most Americans are unaware of today.

    By questioning for whatever reasons whether the 14th Amendment and Wong Kim Ark are the "right policy" for America today, Goodlatte is attacking the very foundation of America itself and opening the door to taking this country back to the Dred Scott era.

    That at least bears some comparison with what Burma is doing to the Rohingya minority in that country.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
  4. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Of course, Retired INS is right about the 14th amendment, but there are some people out there who are trying to distort its meaning to narrow its scope.

    There were also some people back in the late 19th century when Wong Kim Ark was decided who were trying to twist a crucial phrase in the 14th amendment in order to argue that it did not protect the US-born children of Chinese immigrants who, while not here in violation of law, were still barred by law from ever becoming US citizens.

    What Goodlatte's April 29 statement signifies to me is that the time when people wanted to distort and limit the meaning of the 14th amendment in order to pander to prejudice against unpopular immigrant minorities is not yet over

    Anyone who knows anything about the history and background of the 14th amendment and Wong Kim Ark should be able to tell exactly what Goodlatte gives every indication of being up to when he mentions them as part of his list of items to "reconsider" in regard to birthright citizenship.

    Indeed, the more one knows about the background of that amendment and decision, the more ominous Goodlatte's statement becomes.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 05-13-2015 at 06:56 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  5. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    In fairness, there might be another way of interpreting Goodlatte's motives in referring to the 14th Amendment and Wong Kim Ark as subjects for review by his Committee. By mentioning these precedents, he may be indirectly warning his fellow conservatives that, no matter how much they might like to restrict or eliminate birthright citizenship, there two venerable precedents would tie their hands, so not to expect any real change in this doctrine, no matter how much they would like to change it.

    If that is Goodlatte's real reason for mentioning these precedents in his April 29 opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee, there would be much less reason for concern on the part of birthright citizenship supporters.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
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