Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fourteenth Amendment: Context Matters

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states the following:

'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'

Now, most will admit that 'common knowledge' suggests that 'if you are born here, you are automatically a citizen of the U.S.' Is that an accurate interpretation of the Amendment? What exactly does 'and subject to the jurisdiction thereof' mean? The actual text paints a much different picture on what common knowledge suggests, casting a cloud over the assumed citizenship of tens of thousands born here 'without jurisdiction'.

Jurisdiction is defined by Webster as 'the power, right, or authority to apply the law' or 'the authority of a sovereign power to govern or legislate'. Taken a step further, subject or the phrase 'subject to' is defined as; 'living in the territory of, enjoying the protection of, and owing allegiance to a sovereign power or state'.  Do illegal immigrants subject themselves to the laws of the U.S. or pay allegiance to America? The mere fact that by stepping across the border, their first act was in defiance of the laws of the land, tells us that answer is 'no'.

It is my opinion that those persons present within the United States without legal status, AND thus  the children born here to such families, are not 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof' and therefore not entitled to automatic citizenship. Now, this is just the meager opinion of an individual living in the Heartland. However, isn't it fair to introduce this concept for some open debate? Is it reasonable to give the Supreme Court the chance to weigh in on this topic, since there has not been such a decision to date? 

I believe it is very important, especially considering the present hotbed of immigration issues and problems, to carefully interpret and adhere to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868. Though it's provisions helped to protect the rights of newly freed slaves - who were now HOLDING JURISDICTION within the United States after Emancipation in 1863 - the Amendment was pointed at overruling the Dred Scott decision. Does anyone really believe it was intended to create 'anchor babies' or a 'back-door' trick for gaining citizenship?

United States citizenship is both valuable and desirable. Let's clear up these issues with new debate and perhaps a modern day Supreme Court ruling on the interpretation of the Amendment. Let us also define our sovereignty by closing and protecting and defending our borders and citizens. The Constitution is clear about this singular role of the Federal Government. 

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