Op-Ed by: Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
As the new Congress convened, a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration proposed two laws. One would declare that children of parents who immigrated here illegally are not born “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. and so are not birthright citizens under the 14th Amendment. Under the other, states would issue two types of birth certificates, one for those born “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. and one for everyone else.
The states have no power to pass the first proposed law. Congress may be able to, but it is a bad idea that will not halt illegal immigration. It also has no chance to pass the Senate or override President Obama’s certain veto. If it were enacted, the courts would strike it down. It is symbolic politics expressing special hostility to Mexican immigrants, who comprise almost 60% of the nation’s undocumented population.
This is a the opposite of how we should be making immigration policy. The U.S. owes more, not less, to Mexico and its immigrants than it does to other nations.
Why? Because the U.S. has treated Mexico in ways that it has treated no other nation, creating potent incentives for Mexicans to move north. Yet our immigration policy applies the same per-country cap to Mexico that it does to countries from which few wish to leave.
If the U.S. apportioned more of its overall legal immigration admissions to Mexicans, it would do far more to reduce its numbers of illegal aliens than any change in birthright citizenship would.
To suggest that the U.S. privilege Mexicans over other nationals is heresy in Washington – not to mention in Arizona.
But it is common sense if one studies history.
The story begins in 1846, when partly due to concerns that Mexico had abolished slavery, the U.S. provoked a war that resulted in America acquiring half of Mexico’s territory, including the vast natural resources of California and Texas. No other nation has lost so much land to the U.S. except the Indian tribes, whose members now all have citizenship. Mexicans could stay on their conquered lands if they became American citizens. But few could provide land titles to American courts, so most lost their lands and had to work for U.S.-owned farms, mines and industries.
In the late 19th century, the modernizing Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz drove many Mexican small farmers off their soil, turning the lands over to American-owned railroads and mining companies, who employed many of those they helped displace.
Patterns were set: Many Mexicans found they could make a living only by working for American companies, often moving to the resource-rich north to do so. Through the 20th century, American employers in farming, manufacturing and service industries often recruited Mexicans when cheap labor was needed – then callously supported mass deportations, even of Mexican-American citizens, when labor surpluses arose.
Meanwhile, many Mexicans in the U.S. suffered from severe discrimination, despite their desire to work hard and contribute to America. Many, therefore, had strong senses of their distinct cultural identities, developing a kind of cultural “dual nationality,” American and Mexican.
In sum, U.S. policies have created to our south a large population that has strong kinship ties to Mexican-American communities and well-founded beliefs that they have better economic opportunities in northern areas, many once part of Mexico, than they do at home. They immigrate, more than any other nation’s people – and most are then productive, peaceful residents who seek to retain their cultural identities, like many other Americans, but who are glad to become loyal citizens.
Not all Mexicans fit those descriptions. But if the U.S. altered its policies to expand opportunities for those who do, it would reduce illegal immigration and express the best American values.