Prejudice Fuels the Opposition to Birthright Citizenship. By Roger Algase
With his disgraceful call for abolishing birthright US citizenship (following the less publicized, but equally shameful House Judiciary Subcommittee "hearings" on this issue earlier this year under the direction of Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia), Donald Trump is attempting to reopen an old wound in American immigration law - and American society.
He is also trying to take America back to the time of the Chinese exclusion laws and the Dred Scott decision, when certain groups of people were considered to be ineligible for American citizenship because of their race.
Amanda Terkel summarizes the long connection between racial prejudice and the movement to restrict birthright US citizenship in her August 18 Huffington Post article: Racist Fears Have Long Driven Attempt To Restrict Birthright Citizenship: From Dred Scott to the Chinese Exclusion Act, America has a dark history of trying to deny citizenship to certain groups.
She begins by responding to suggestions by some Republican politicians that the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship to all US-born children should be repealed as follows:
"But rescinding birthright citizenship privileges would return the US to some of its darkest chapters, when politicians tried to deny birthright citizenship rights to black people and when the country was overtaken by anti-Chinese xenophobia."
"Citizenship by birth has been in common law since America's founding. The first time that this right was taken away for a group of people was in 1857, when the Supreme Court issued its shameful Dred Scott decision holding that black people, free or slave, could never become US citizens."
She also writes:
"Anti-Chinese sentiment was high in the late 19th century, with people worried that Chinese immigrants - who were viewed as racially inferior, would come in an take away the jobs of hardworking Americans. As a result, politicians passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which essentially stopped Chinese immigration and barred Chinese residents of the US from becoming citizens."
However, as Terkel also points out, the US Supreme Court, in the landmark 1898 decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (169 U.S. 649) ruled that under the 14th Amendment, the US born child of Chinese parents who were themselves barred from ever becoming citizens because of the Chinese Exclusion Act was a citizen at birth. The Court's majority rejected the openly racist argument to the contrary in the dissenting opinion.
I have written extensively about the Wong Kim Ark decision on this site previously. It is time to take another look at this important case, as I will do in an upcoming post.
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards for more than 30 years. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org