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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Your American Citizenship At Risk

Update: 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump now advocates ending birthright citizenship. He is the latest to float this as the solution to a major problem, but fails to consider the consequences and serious drawbacks to this proposal. Below is my commentary, from way back in 2010.

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Every so often, the concept of amending the 14th Amendment to do away with birthright citizenship is floated as the solution to the problem of illegal immigration.  This is a seriously flawed approach, for two primary reasons. The first is that removing birthright citizenship (out of fear of encouraging the irresponsible parents of "anchor babies" to come here to give birth) potentially imperils everyone's American citizenship. Everyone -- except for those in the protected elites and the "connected" -- would be at risk of having to demonstrate their "worthiness" to be an American.

The second point is that removing birthright as the basis for citizenship requires the substitution of a different criterion upon which decisions to allow one to remain in the country would be made. (The alternative would be to have no standard, in which case a subjective and entirely arbitrary practice would emerge.) This raises some awfully troubling questions:

(1) What objective criterion would be used to determine if you are desirable?
(2) How does one determine which others are desirable without being blatantly discriminatory?
(3) Who does the "deciding"?
(4) Who hires the "deciders"?

The practical result of doing away with birthright citizenship could be the emergence of a massive new federal "citizenship registry" which would evaluate everyone. The numbers of workers needed for such an agency will be huge. More workers -- and lawyers -- would be needed to be agency lawyers, administrative law judges and federal judges (the latter, to handle the immense flood of court appeals that would be virtually certain to arise).

As a lawyer, this would be a potentially lucrative practice.

As an American, I fear that this is a tremendously elitist proposal. What is dangerous is that "the masses" and especially the populists can be deceived into supporting doing away with birthright citizenship. Perhaps nothing threatens our rights more than the idea that the federal government can strip us of citizenship as a reaction to its own gross dereliction of duty regarding its failure to keep our borders secure.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who runs his own legal and strategic consulting practice. He writes on public policy and legal affairs. He may be reached at

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