By JACQUELINE STEVENS
CITIZENSHIP laws are in the news again. ...
The real problem with citizenship laws is not their manipulation by lawmakers or entrepreneurs, much less by mythical “anchor babies.” The problem is more fundamental: the age-old, irrational linkage between citizenship and birthplace.
From ancient Athens to South Sudan, birth to certain parents, or in a certain territory, has been the primary criterion for citizenship. The word “nationality” comes from the Latin nasci, or birth. America is no exception, notwithstanding the enlargement of citizenship to encompass non-Europeans and women.
Archaic membership rules have made life miserable not only for Mexican migrants in the United States, but also for people who cannot persuade their governments to accept their claims of citizenship ...
... The problem is not bad science, poorly trained officials or even ethnic hatred. The problem is the dubious reliance on birth for assigning citizenship.
Why does the practice endure? ...
Citizens are created by politicians, the citizen-makers. And they are created because the nation, and hence birthright citizenship, exists to alleviate anxieties about death.
Belonging to the nation or any other community by birth, including one’s family, sustains fantasies of immortality, as these groups persist after one’s own life has ended. Birthright citizenship, and indeed, the entire body of laws around families and inheritance, embody societies’ collective flight from death.
Libertarians and economists have long questioned the usefulness of national boundaries. In 1984, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page proposed adding a constitutional amendment: “There shall be open borders.”
For some on the left, the abolition of birthright citizenship evokes the nightmarish prospect of a labor glut in wealthy countries, the global lowering of wages, and capitalism run amok. But greed and corruption have challenged good governance in all ages, not just in the modern capitalist era. Moreover, too many on the left overlook how inheritance laws perpetuate inequality, as well as the disparity in wealth among countries because of restrictions on migration.
Karl Marx predicted that the demise of feudalism would mean that wealth would be created anew in each generation. Instead, intergenerational transmission of money and property remains the main culprit for inequality in wealth. Abolishing inheritance would help end inequality within countries; abolishing birthright citizenship would help end inequality among countries, by letting people move for greater opportunity.
Impossible? Utopian? That was the response to those who proposed the elimination of slavery, a persistent feature for most of the world’s history and, like nativism, defended by some because its abolition would benefit Northern capitalists and increase factory exploitation.
Instead of using birth for assigning citizenship, why not keep the boundaries of current countries, open the borders, and use residence to define citizenship, as the 50 states do? ... People should be free to move across borders; they should be citizens of the states where they happen to reside—period.
Back in 2005, I pointed out that about five billion people live in countries with lower per capita GDP's than Mexico's. Since almost a quarter of all Mexicans in the world now live in the United States, the implication from that example is that Open Borders would bring hundreds of millions of poor foreigners to the U.S., as was confirmed by a subsequent Gallup Poll in over 100 countries.
But, who cares about numbers? Anyway, crunching numbers to refute Open Borders enthusiasts is like breaking a butterfly upon the wheel.