New York Times: Who Gets To Be An American?


EFE: “La inmigracion es una amenaza para los ciudadanos de Farmers Branch”

SMU cultural anthropologist Caroline B. Brettell is quoted in the Sept. 20, 2010 issue of “Upfront,” the news magazine for teens published jointly by The New York Times and Scholastic.

In the article “Who Gets To Be An American?” journalist Patricia Smith explores the 14th Amendment, which makes everyone born in the United States a citizen, but which is now under attack in the controversy over immigration.

Brettell, a professor in the SMU Department of Anthropology, comments on birthright citizenship in the article.

EXCERPT:

The 14th Amendment makes everyone born in the U.S. a citizen — including the children of illegal immigrants. But now, birthright citizenship is under attack.

By Patricia Smith
Ever since the 14th Amendment was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, it’s been largely unquestioned that everyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen.
But, as the national debate over illegal immigration intensifies in an election year, birthright citizenship is being seriously questioned for the first time in almost 150 years.

“This surfaces every once in a while as part of a bigger debate — it’s usually more of a fringe discussion,” says Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “What’s different this time is that people in Congress are talking about it.”

The Amendment was adopted in 1868 to ensure the citizenship of American-born former slaves and their children.

Opponents of birthright citizenship say it encourages continued illegal immigration. They contend that illegal immigrants are not under U.S. jurisdiction, as the Amendment specifies, and therefore their American-born children should not automatically be citizens.

“If you are an illegal immigrant, we clearly have not given you permission to reside here,” says Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, a group that favors decreased immigration. “You are still subject to the jurisdiction of your own country.” …

… Some Republicans worry that the issue could backfire in the long term. “This type of position may help you win a few elections,” says Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a group that tries to draw Hispanics to the Republican Party. “But you are damaging relations with the Latino community.”

The U.S. isn’t alone in offering birthright citizenship; Canada and most Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico, do so. But it’s much less common in Europe and Asia, where citizenship more frequently depends on whether a parent is a citizen.

“Birthright citizenship is particularly characteristic of countries in the ‘New World’ — settler societies that wanted people to come,” notes Caroline Brettell, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The 14th Amendment has played a critical role in the country’s history, says historian Gary Gerstle of Vanderbilt University.

Read the full story.

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