My Cato colleague Will Wilkinson is not a big fan of those who oppose illegal immigration, so it is especially interesting that he has a column making the argument that ending “birthright citizenship” would be a positive step. At the risk of over-simplifying his position, he hypothesizes that this reform would defuse the concerns of those who come to America in hopes of mooching from taxpayers. And by allaying this fear, it would make it more feasible to expand mutually beneficial economic ties between the United States and Mexico. I’ve already posted on some of the historical and legal aspects of this issue. Will’s column explores the consequences of reform.
The proposal to end “birthright citizenship” for the children of unauthorized immigrants springs from less than generous motives, and almost surely runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. But ending it altogether is a better idea than you might think. (And if you already think it’s a good idea, it’s good for reasons you might find surprising.) For one, it would likely achieve the opposite of its intended result by making America more, rather than less, welcoming to newcomers. …The rule of law demands a clear set of equitable rules that respects and regulates natural patterns of traffic, that sets and sustains long-term expectations, that facilitates and channels the fundamental human inclination to seek out opportunity and the benefits of cooperation. To set up a stop sign every five feet and then to crack down on people who don’t follow the rules misses the point. So does establishing an imaginary line that restricts trade and travel while making a muddle of citizenship. Fortunately, we already have a model of sensible reform from a frequently insensible place – the European Union. By establishing a common labor market in which Americans and Mexicans (Canadians too!) may range freely, living and working where they please, we can channel the commercial energy of integration while maintaining distinctly separate citizenship. Indeed, the feasibility of this arrangement requires maintaining a clear distinction between the right to live and work in another country’s territory and the right to the benefits enjoyed by its citizens. It is a fact of modern life that the redistributive nation-state offers all manner of goods to citizens. To be a citizen of a wealthy country is a lot like being a member of a private club. Yet even the wealthiest national clubs are straining to deliver the benefits promised to members. If a club’s rules permit visitors, invited or not, to mint new members simply by giving birth, cash-strapped current members are bound to object. …not a single EU country has a birthright citizenship rule like that in the U.S. Birthright citizenship made sense for a frontier country with open borders, newly freed slaves, and a small, remote bureaucracy. But the time seems ripe to consider alternatives. …There’s ample reason to believe a change in policy could make America a more immigrant-friendly place while simultaneously restricting the costly benefits of citizenship. Though undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most forms of government assistance, their America-born kids do qualify, which is no doubt an attraction to some prospective immigrant parents. The hard-right Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce speaks for many Americans when he says birthright citizenship “rewards lawbreakers.” What’s more, because these children, once grown, can sponsor family members for authorized migration, they function as border-spanning bridges over which a retinue of relatives may trod. These relatives, once naturalized, can in turn sponsor aunts and uncles and cousins without end. Hence the fear of the “anchor baby,” a gurgling demographic landmine set to explode into a multi-headed invasion of Telemundo fans.