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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can Congress Strip You of Citizenship?

Average Americans may be at risk of losing their citizenship, even if they were born here, because the federal government cannot or won't secure the borders.  This can become reality if Congress eliminates birthright citizenship which traditionally was believed sacrosanct under the Fourteenth Amendment.  (See today's New York Times for an interesting article related to the topic.) 

If birthplace is no longer sufficient to guarantee American citizenship, nothing would stop Congress from making new criteria to strip and then expel any "Americans" which future regulators may consider "undesirables."  This would almost certainly result in a new government agency because the process of determining alien or citizen parentage will be complex and also because the current agency with jurisdiction over immigration matters, the Department of Homeland Security, is demonstrably inefficient or outright incompetent in handling any matters under its purview. 

Would you trust DHS to evaluate your bonafides to be an American citizen when your child is born?  No, me neither.

Currently, all Americans born within our borders or subject to American jurisdiction (such as overseas armed forces bases) have American citizenship.  (Some scholars, including Yale Law School professor Peter Schuck, contend that the Fourteenth Amendment does not contemplate birthright citizenship.)  A persistent movement to end birthright citizenship in order to stop the problem of "anchor babies" sponsoring their illegal immigrant parents would require that the federal government evaluate newborns' parentage -- or other, as yet undetermined factors -- for citizenship status. 

There are many practical and legal problems to any such evaluation process.  Once the government gets the power to strip American-born citizens of their citizenship on any basis, there is little to stop additional bases from being used to make new determinations.  The drive to end birthright citizenship, despite its populist appeal, is actually very elitist in its effect.  A perfect example of an unintended consequence. 

There will be untold risks.  Once regulators and bureaucrats get involved, there is the danger of new and abusive regulations.  Just consider how the Transportation Security Agency has misused its discretion in screening or frisking airline passengers.  TSA abuse may be but a mild harbinger of the dangers of a new federal government citizenship registry. 

If these regulators get a hold of the power to strip you of your American citizenship and your "right" or expectation of being allowed to remain in this country, who can remain safe and secure in the knowledge that he or she won't be considered an undesirable in the future?

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer and strategic analyst.  Mr. Dixon has been practicing law in New York since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994.  Mr. Dixon handles complex constitutional, legal and business matters for legal, strategic and political clients.  Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at


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