The Constitution of the United States guarantees citizenship to any person born within its territories. Fear of immigration is threatening this fundamental aspect of our national character.
Having grown up in the United States, I simply assumed that being born in a country was enough to earn citizenship. It turns out that the world is starkly divided in how it grants citizenship. Almost the entire “New World” (i.e., North and South America) gives citizenship to anyone born in their country – a system known as jus soli (soil juice). Almost the entire rest of the world requires some form of lineage or blood line to establish citizenship – jus sanguinis (blood juice).
The long-held tradition of jus soli has recently been revisited in the United States because some Americans feel that the system of citizenship is being exploited by those unfit to be American. The latest nativist fear-mongering centers around the supposedly popular practice of immigrants giving birth to a child in the US so as to facilitate their own legitimate immigration. What they fail to mention is that such a child would not be permitted to sponsor any parents for immigration until they reach the age of 21. Furthermore, immigrants having children in the US and establishing long-term roots is not new – the only thing different now is that the immigrants are coming from Latin America, Africa and Asia, and not from Europe.
Conservatives no longer feel that being born in the US is good enough. They are not scared of anchor babies, but using them them as an excuse to spew bigoted rhetoric. What they are really scared of is a non-White America. The same people who argue for the trumpeting of American exceptionalism are the ones who are advocating for the repeal one of our most fundamentally exceptional laws and traditions. The same people who complain that Obama is making American more like Europe are the ones who wish to revive an archaic (by American standards) practice.
I understand why Europeans maintain the jus sanguinis principle. Immigration poses more challenges for smaller European countries than it does for the US, where large-scale immigration predates the founding of the country. Places like Denmark and Switzerland feel much more threatened by the hordes of outsiders, armed with Schengen visas and strange languages. But as my Republican brethren repeatedly remind us, the US is not Europe and we should not abandon a principle that has enriched the country for over a century (and with the huge exception of the slave population and their descendants, since the writing of the nation’s constitution).
Anchor babies are not the problem, xenophobia is. Birth-right citizenship is not a universal truth that should be applied in every country. The United States, however, is in a unique position to posit the belief that a country can be built upon values rather than an idea of race or bloodline.