Posts Tagged ‘immigration’


The Citizenship Clause and Anchor Babies

   Posted by: Robert    in Law

I was recently linked to an article by Ann Coulter which offers her take on the legal history of the citizenship of illegal alien born babies under the 14th Amendment.  Her article is interesting, and quite possibly the most reasonably presented argument I’ve seen from her.  The essence of her article is to point out that anchor babies — children born of illegal aliens on US soil which illegal aliens can use as an “anchor” to tie themselves to the US — are the product of a misunderstanding about the meaning of the 14th Amendment.  As she points out, the question whether the Citizenship Clause would apply to the children of aliens came up at the time the Clause was drafted, and rejected by its author.  Unfortunately, the history on this point is not so clear as she would cause us to believe, and is, in any case, irrelevant to the text of what the 14th Amendment actually says.

The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment states:

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

This clause has two essential parts.  In the first, it identifies a group of people (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof”) and then grants that group citizenship.  The essential question is whether or not the children of illegal immigrants are part of the identified group of people.  Based on the text and structure of the Clause, it is apparent that they are.

The part of the Clause that identifies the group is a conjunction of two separate conditions.  To qualify, you must be a person “born or naturalized in the United States.”  Anchor babies, by their very definition, are “born … in the United States,” so they pass this first test.  Having been born in the United States, you then must be “subject to the jurisdiction [of the United States].”  If there is a reason to believe that illegal aliens are not subject to US jurisdiction, it is difficult to imagine what that reason might be.  Illegal aliens are generally expected to obey US law, are subject to arrest, and can be imprisoned — all classic indicators that illegal aliens, while in the country, are subject to US jurisdiction.

However, as Ann Coulter points out:

The very author of the citizenship clause, Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan, expressly said: “This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”

She takes that statement as evidence that, when it comes to conferring citizenship on aliens, illegals’ babies need not apply, because the author of the Clause himself was sure that it would not be so.  Her basic argument has two flaws.  First, it is entirely possible that the Clause’s author wrote something that he did not intend; if so, that’s unfortunate, but it is the text, not the author’s intent that controls.  Second, and more importantly, his words do not say what Ms. Coulter takes them to mean.  Senator Howard is not talking about illegal alien babies; he’s talking about “aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”

In the constitutional analysis, the difference between illegal alien babies and foreign ambassador babies is important.  Foreign ambassadors, by diplomatic tradition and legal history, do not normally become subject to the jurisdictions wherein they perform their official duties.  This fact is the basis of diplomatic immunity, which ambassadors enjoy along with their families who join them during their travels.  For Senator Howard to say that the Citizenship Clause does not apply to “the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers,” he is not saying anything that isn’t clear from the Clause’s text.  Because they are not “subject to the jurisdiction [of the United States],” they are not part of the group that enjoys automatic citizenship.  Illegal aliens, however, have no diplomatic immunity, or any foreign immunity of any kind.  That fact leaves them in the automatic citizenship group and leaves us with anchor babies.

Ms. Coulter’s other examples of who falls into the group and who doesn’t break down along similar lines.  Native Americans are out because they are under tribal rather than US jurisdiction.  Legal immigrants are in because they have crossed into and, thus, subjected themselves to US jurisdiction.  And she finishes with a tale of welfare state horribles that have nothing to do with the constitutional question at hand.

Although it would be nice if the existence of anchor babies rested entirely on a misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment, that is, unfortunately, not the case.  By its plain terms, if you are born in the US and subject to US jurisdiction, you’re automatically a citizen.  Because babies born to illegal aliens on US soil meet both criteria, their citizenship is constitutionally guaranteed.

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Ruling on Arizona Law

   Posted by: Robert    in Law

This afternoon, a federal judge in Arizona granted a preliminary injunction against portions of the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070.  Although the federal government had asked for the entire law to be struck down, the judge declined to grant an injunction against the law in its entirety.  That is not, however, anything close to a win for Arizona or the American people; it simply means that the law was killed surgically, rather than with a blunt instrument.  Reading through the ruling itself, it appears that the judge completely bought into the federal government’s preemption argument, but largely failed to make a convincing case for why its ruling is correct.  What follows are my first impressions on select parts of the ruling.


I have wondered since I first heard that the US government was suing Arizona how the federal government would justify standing to bring forth its lawsuit.  In making her ruling, the judge offered no insight as to how she found the federal government to have standing.  Though I wasn’t surprised by this — neither side briefed the issue (that I saw) and nobody (I’ve seen) has asked this question besides me — I was disappointed.

The question of preemption is fundamentally a question of which law applies to a particular case.  In the normal preemption case, a party is challenged under a state law, and mounts a defense saying that the state law is preempted by federal law.  If the state law and federal law conflict, the Supremacy Clause dictates that federal law must win, meaning that the state law is preempted.  The conflict can either be direct, in the sense that the federal law and state law say two incompatible things, or the preemption could be made by rule, if the federal government affirmatively prevents the states from legislating in a given area.  Regardless of how preemption happens, the party harmed was always the person or entity against whom the state law would apply if not for preemption.

Today, without any discussion, the judge has necessarily found that the federal government is itself harmed when a state passes a law which is incompatible with federal law.  While it’s possible that I’ve missed something about how standing works, this (implicit) theory of standing seems incredible to me.  Last I checked, the federal government doesn’t have a free-standing license to challenge any state law that it doesn’t like.

Of course, for the sake of fairness, I should note that it’s at least plausible that the federal government could claim to be harmed by the “burden” Arizona would place on it by running immigration checks and referring illegal aliens to ICE for processing.  However, that only opens the door to some of the challenges posed to the Arizona law, not to the entire thing.

Section 2b

In striking down this section, the judge makes much of a drafting error made in the original SB 1070 and later corrected in a subsequent amendment passed in short succession.  The judge is quick to criticize the second sentence of this section, which says that “[a]ny person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released.”  In the law, as amended, this naturally follows the preceding sentence which says what Arizona law enforcement must do “[f]or any lawful stop, detention or arrest.”  The judge, however, refused to read the two sentences as a cohesive whole because the original unamended SB 1070 spoke only of “lawful contact,” rather than of “lawful stop, detention or arrest.”  There is little reason to doubt that the Arizona legislature intended both forms of that sentence to mean the same thing, and that the amendment was made to clear up the obvious vagueness of what “lawful contact” actually entails.  The judge, however, would apparently hold the two phrases to mean something so radically different that the second sentence and first sentence should be read as if they are in entirely separate sections, despite the absurd result that analysis produces.

Section 5

In striking down this section, the judge turns established precedent squarely on its head.  She begins with the following observation:

“States possess broad authority under their police powers to regulate the employment relationship to protect workers within the State.” De Canas, 424 U.S. at 356. Interpreting De Canas and considering a state law sanctioning employers who hire unauthorized workers, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that, “because the power to regulate the employment of unauthorized aliens remains within the states’ historic police powers, an assumption of non-preemption appli[ed].” Chicanos Por La Causa I, 544 F.3d at 984; accord Wyeth v. Levine, 129 S. Ct. 1187, 1194-95 (2009) (observing that “[i]n all pre-emption cases, and particularly in those in which Congress has legislated . . . in a field which the States have traditionally occupied, . . . we start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress” (internal quotations and citation omitted)).

Having read that paragraph, it would appear that the viability of a law limiting illegal aliens from applying for or performing work should be an easy win for Arizona.  Arizona’s law is, after all, directly on point with the above cited cases.  By the end of the section, however, the judge has talked herself into the exact opposite conclusion.  The linchpin: Arizona attaches a penalty to violating its law.

Although I haven’t read the cited precedent, I find it highly unlikely that the cases above involved state laws with no penalty for non-compliance.  After all, police powers are rather meaningless if the police have no power to enforce them.

Section 6

In sum, this section amounts to unconstitutionality by virtue of hopelessly confusing federal policy.  The essence of the judge’s conclusion on this section is that it is simply too hard for Arizona police to know what is and isn’t a removable offense, so that “there is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens.”

Although I find it illogical to say that this law is preempted as opposed to, say, that it is unconstitutionally vague, I find it hard to fault the judge too deeply for her outcome on this point.  From everything I understand, the entire concept of a “removable offense” is, truly, a mess.  Nobody really knows whether or not an offense mandates removal of the alien until the final appellate court has its say.  This is an area where Congress really should step up and add some much needed clarity to the law.


Overall, the quality of the ruling strikes me as being pretty bad.  The key through it all, however, is that the court bought the federal government’s argument of preemption and ran with it to every area of the law where it was necessary to strike the law down.  The ruling, however, leaves open some important questions which should be addressed in a final ruling on the merits at some point in the future.

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The Case Against Insuring Illegals

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

In skimming their website for something else, I stumbled across a Newsweek article making the case for health insurance for illegals.  The main thrust of the article is that there is an economic advantage to insuring people who are in the country illegally.  The advantage is based on the notion that illegal immigrants are, for their age and occupation, generally healthier than a similar American.  Because of the way insurance works, a healthy individual paying into the system reduces costs for everyone else because they contribute more money than they demand.  Unfortunately for Newsweek, even assuming that the average illegal is healthier than the comparable American, there are at least two fundamental flaws in the article’s argument providing them with insurance.

The first and most glaring flaw is that the article appears to simply assume that illegals are going to pay for their insurance like the rest of us.  Given that these people are “undocumented,” that they do not pay taxes, and that they do not appear on official company payrolls, this appears to be an assumption that deserves close scrutiny.  Furthermore, if the attraction of hiring illegals is the fact that they can be paid below minimum wage for long hours and given few benefits, these people are certainly not all that wealthy.  Most probably couldn’t afford insurance if they wanted to.  Thus, in order to be covered by universal health care, their premiums would need to be subsidized by raising the premiums (or taxes) on none other than the people whose costs they are supposedly bringing down.  Insuring illegals is a losing proposition the instant one of them goes to the doctor.

The second flaw is somewhat more subtle, but it amounts to the author assuming that the number of sick illegals entering the country will not increase.  That assumption will undoubtedly be false.  The reason illegals are so healthy now is because they need to be in order to not only cross the border but to then also work the long hours of physical labor required for them to succeed.  Insurance for illegals adds a new form of success: Without having done any work or paying a dime, an illegal would be cured of all that ails him.

It is a good sign that even the left understands the need to talk about economics.  They would be better served if their arguments were correct.  The economics are undoubtedly against the left on this issue.  Illegals should not be spending our tax dollars in our hospitals while American citizens are standing in line; they should be where they belong — at home.

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