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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ron Paul On Who Is An American?

One of the things that makes America a unique country is the principle that citizenship belongs to all who are born within its borders, without regard to social standing or anything else. It is perhaps the ultimate sign of equality. All born here have our citizenship, without further requirement or class distinction.

The somewhat libertarian - and likely 2012 Republican presidential contender - Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) proposed today that children of illegal immigrants, even if born within our borders, would be denied automatic citizenship. This position would eviscerate the current Fourteenth Amendment providing that all who are born here are citizens.  In addition, this stance is fundamentally un-American and inherently unequal.  In fact, it is incredibly elitist.

Paul's stance, if implemented, would institutionalize a basic distinction, based on nothing more than the immutable characteristic of our parentage. Who becomes a citizen becomes a function of who our parents were. If our government treats us differently, based not on who we are and what we do, but on who our parents are -- a factor which we are totally powerless to control or atone for -- then our government will stand for a system where we can make some people suffer for the actions of others -- a fundamental injustice if there ever is one. It would make a class distinction and codify a caste system, just like the kingdoms of Western Europe had in the Middle Ages and colonial era, the countries where society and law recognized concepts of sharp inequality expressed in terms like "one's betters."

The American colonists, those who fled political and religious persecution and tyranny, consciously rejected such arbitrary and unequal distinctions. Ron Paul would return us to the rigid English class consciousness of the 18th Century, where your destiny was shaped by the holder of the uterus from which you emerged.

American society -- at least since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- has never been one to subjugate, segregate or discriminate against anyone on the sole basis of who their parents were or what their parents did.   Such an attitude was characteristic of less progressive, or totalitarian, societies.  This attitude is more characteristic of the feudal societies of the Middle Ages with their rigid class structures...the same societies that gave rise to snooty Victorian England and the decadent French of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette (whose uterus apparently passed muster to produce "real Frenchmen" until she met the cutting edge)...the same societies the early Americans (and the revolutionary French) rebelled against. 

Once we disconnect one's actions from one's destiny, and make another's actions responsible for your destiny, we tell people that their fates are preordained. This means that people will lose hope, but will also lose the sense of responsibility for their actions or the consequences therefrom.

Another troubling aspect:  Ron Paul's proposal would shift the burden of proof from the state to the person.   As a hypothetical situation, let's say someone -- born to a citizen mother -- is abandoned at a hospital or fire station (as we now encourage mothers to do so newborns don't end up in trash bins).   The critical question for the abandoned child is: How would we know if the child came out of a citizen uterus?   Do we presume that he had alien parentage?  And who will be qualified -- or appointed by law -- to make such determinations?  What regulatory scheme will arise to make such decisions? 

At least, under our legal tradition that, for the moment, gives considerable respect to the concept of due process, such a proposal would be likely to also spawn administrative procedures and substantial litigation.    (More lawyers will be employed, to be sure, to protect the rights of these babies.)

Paul's proposal is also ironic. Classic libertarians want to reduce the degree of government control over the private affairs of people. However, once citizenship is not automatic by birth, it becomes a decision of "citizenship panels," and will engender processes sure to be rife with corruption and exploitation. It would make our federal government extremely involved in our lives by giving it the power to determine, in its discretion surely to be abused, who is an American.
In short, I cannot fathom a position that is less "conservative," or "libertarian."

Ron Paul would increase government power and control over our lives.   Aside from the powers to compel your enlisting in the military, prosecute you or seize your assets, perhaps there would be no greater government power than that of being able to determine whether you would ever be able to be an American citizen.

Ron Paul's proposal, if enacted, would have the government have the power to say:  You can be born here, and do great things...but an American you shall never be.

Finally, Paul's position is a reaction (knee-jerk, reactionary and very ill-considered) to the federal government's abject and depravedly indifferent failure to secure our borders. However, his proposal would deny the most basic citizenship right to people born here, who have done nothing wrong (except be conceived inside the wrong mother) for nothing more than the failure of our government.

What we need is a federal government which does its most basic job of securing the border.  Alas, our leaders often feel that it is easier to infringe on rights -- here, to deny citizenship to people born here -- in order to ... well, to do what exactly?  To secure the border -- after the aliens are already here?  (Talk about shutting the barn door after the horse is well down the road.)

Ron Paul has, in this opinion, committed the greatest policy -- and political -- mistake of his career with this highly misguided proposal.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer and strategic analyst. He handles legislative and policy analysis in addition to advocating on civil rights and election law matters. He is available for comment at 917-696-2442 and through this site.

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