by Bill Lockwood
Some estimate the number of Central American citizens marching northward through Mexico to the United States to be upward of 14,000. Eighty percent of these immigrants are men younger than 35 years old. President Trump has issued a state of emergency and U.S. troops are being deployed to the Mexican border.
In the wake of this looming invasion of the sovereignty of the United States, several issues are being pushed to the forefront of national attention. The most notable is the meaning of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and its so-called Citizenship Clause. “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.”
Many cultural leaders and Constitutional commentators insist that these clauses mean that the children born of parents temporarily in the country as students, or children born of illegal aliens who are unlawfully residing within our geographical boundaries automatically become U.S. citizens. This is known as “Birthright citizenship.”
This, however, is not what the text of the Constitution says or means, in spite of the fact that many people think that it does. For example, a recent article in the Chicago Tribune argues for birthright citizenship.
“Trump eyes order to end birthright citizenship. Legal experts say that would violate Constitution,” blares the headline.
“President Donald Trump is vowing to sign an executive order that would seek to end the right to U.S. citizenship for children born in the United States to non-citizens, a move most legal experts say runs afoul of the Constitution and that was dismissed Tuesday by the top House Republican.”
John Wagner, a writer for The Washington Post and author of the above lines, adds that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed the idea in a recent radio interview, explaining that Trump’s proposal is not consistent with the Constitution. Ryan explained that not only can Trump not end “birthright citizenship” with an executive order, but that Republicans did not like it when Barack Obama changed immigration policy by executive action.
At the risk of taking on the Establishment legal experts but having confidence in the fact that the Constitution was written for all to understand, these “legal experts”, including Paul Ryan, are flat wrong. As a matter of fact, one of the “choke points” designed to minimize the likelihood “that an arguably unconstitutional federal law would pass and take effect” is the plain supposition that the Constitution speaks “not merely to federal judges, but rather to all branches and ultimately to the people themselves” (Akhil Reed Amar, America’s Constitution: A Biography, p. 62-63).
The Civil War Amendments
The Fourteenth Amendment was the second of three amendments to the Constitution that was adopted in post-Civil War America. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment defined citizenship and guaranteed the rights of former slaves; and the Fifteenth Amendment granted the vote to African-American men.
The point of today’s conflict resides in the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, which actually reads: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” are citizens of the United States. Those who advocate birthright citizenship ignore the qualifying phrase.
What is the Meaning of the 14th Amendment?
First, consider Original Intent of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson pointed out the obvious, that “original intent” is the only legitimate interpretation.
On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
This canon of interpretation is obvious, but Jefferson knew there were and would be forces which twist the meaning of written laws to make the Constitution conform to their desires.
James Madison agreed.
I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution … What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.
James Wilson wrote that “The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.” And modern-day Justice Clarence Thomas underscored the point. If we are not interested in the “original intent” the Constitution has no more value than the latest football scores.
All such interpretive methodologies that speak of “various contexts” of the clauses of the Constitution, or that the text actually morphs over time and clime partake is nothing less than existential nonsense designed to free persons from the constraints of law.
Second, consider the original meaning of the 14th Amendment, specifically the qualifying phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”
The 13th Amendment which abolished slavery within all the territories of the United States. It was adopted in December, 1865, only months after the conclusion of the Civil War. However, the 13th Amendment was found not to be enough.
Former slaves were forbidden to appear in “the towns in any other character than menial servants” and were required to reside upon and cultivate the land “without the right to purchase or own it.” They were excluded from many occupations of gain and were “not permitted to give testimony in the courts where a white man was a party” (Thomas Norton, The Constitution of the United States: Its Sources and Its Application).
These and other similar circumstances brought about the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in July, 1868. The chief architect of the Amendment was Ohio politician John Bingham. However, it was Senator Jacob Howard who was the author of the Citizenship Clause in question.
During debate over the clause he assured his colleagues in the Senate that the language “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was not intended to make Indians citizens of the United States because, although born in the geographical boundaries of our nation, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Instead, they owed allegiance to their tribes.
One of Howard’s colleagues, Senator Lyman Trumball, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued in exactly the same manner. He explained to the Senate that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else and being subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.”
“Not owing allegiance to anybody else.” That is as plain as it can be. Who can misread this? Illegal border crossers are not included in subject to the jurisdiction thereof.
It is for this reason the children of foreign diplomats do not automatically become citizens of the United States, although perhaps born on U.S. soil. There is no birthright citizenship.
Modern Constitutional writer Hons von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese Center, explains further:
The fact that a tourist or illegal alien is subject to our laws and our courts if they violate our laws does not place them within the political “jurisdiction” of the United States as that phrase was defined by the framers of the 14th Amendment.
Liberals prefer to believe that anyone present in the United States is “subject to the jurisdiction” of America. That is false, as a plain reading of the 14th Amendment shows, as well as the intention of its framers. Foreigners who jump our borders owe allegiance to other nations and are not only not citizens, neither are their children, though they may be born on this soil.
The above being the case, how did Americans, even lawmakers, come to adopt the position that “birthright citizenship” is the law of the land? Only by bureaucratic overstepping the boundaries of the Constitution. This is a perfect illustration of how governing authorities stretch the meaning of the Constitution to unlawful lengths, then assert their unauthorized position so frequently that the idea becomes settled as if it really is the law of the land.
Americans should be thankful for a president like Donald Trump who is bold enough to take on the establishment and its pretended authority to tell us what the Constitution means. The current crisis in immigration is caused solely by Big Government bureaucrats who have twisted the Constitution into their own mold and a complaisant citizenry which allows them to do so.