Monday, January 10, 2011

Amendments Two and Fourteen - similarities?

This originally appeared a few months ago. Now, with the recent shootings in Arizona and Tea Partiers again bringing up changing the 14th Amendment, this is a pretty relevant topic.

Anti-illegal immigrant groups have been talking about changing the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so that when people who are in the country illegally have children, those children are not U.S. citizens. As with anything else related to illegal immigrants - "undocumented residents", if you're more sympathetic to their plight - this is a very controversial proposal. It's also unlikely to get very far any time soon, which even its supporters admit. Still, I think it makes a lot of sense. Further, it reminds me of the situation with another controversial Amendment: the Second, which protects (or not, depending on your beliefs) the right to individual gun ownership. Here's what I mean.

Everyone agrees that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are a big problem. The disagreement mostly centers around whether we need to make it easier for people to enter and stay in the country - essentially an immigrant-friendly view, or that we need to make it harder for them to illegally enter and then stay in the country - the anti-illegal immigrant view. Please note that nobody claims to be against immigrants coming here legally, although Americans have long tended to not welcome foreigners of any status, and that tendency doesn't seem to have disappeared yet.

Among the problems that the anti-illegal immigrants ("antis" from now on) point to is how many illegals have children here who, under our Constitution, are automatically U.S. citizens. This creates all kinds of problems, not the least of which is: if mom and dad are deported, what happens to their U.S. citizen kids? The scale of the problem is huge, as many pregnant women apparently sneak into the country specifically so that their child is born here, gaining that prized U.S. citizen status. The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that one in every twelve children born in this country was born to a mother who is in the country illegally, and other groups, including the antis, agree that number is about right.

But you can't change the 14th Amendment, top lawmakers say. Citizenship for those born in the U.S. is among the most sacred of our constitutional rights, and if we start fiddling with that right, which other rights will be next? Those proposing a change to the Amendment, they say, are merely playing politics, trying to win the antis' votes.

I'm not convinced.

When contemplating the Constitution and its Amendments, a crucial element is always: what did its authors have in mind? The related, implied consideration is: given what they had in mind, would they have written it the same way today as back then? The Second Amendment illustrates that point. Whether or not the Founding Fathers meant it to protect individual gun rights or merely the right of militias to own guns, as the two sides argue endlessly these days, the fact is that today "the right to bear arms" is a much more complicated proposition than it was 220 years ago.

As a strong supporter of the right to gun ownership by individuals, I nevertheless agree with the need for reasonable limitations on that right. Machine guns, grenade launchers, shoulder mounted surface-to-air missiles - could the Fathers ever have imagined such heinous weapons? If so, would they have felt that everyone - every one of us - should have unlimited access to those? Even convicted violent criminals? Avowed terrorists? Mentally unstable postal workers? What would the Founding Fathers think about people going into a McDonald's or a school or their workplace and shooting up innocent people with automatic weapons? What would they think about what happened in Oklahoma City in 1995 or on 9/11 in 2001? Could they have even imagined all the types of "arms" available today, and the horrific ways that twisted people use them?

It is reasonable, IMO, to think that the Fathers would have written the Second Amendment differently if they were to write it today. Or at least, since they tended to keep the Amendments short and simple, agree that the courts could clarify that certain limitations do not violate the Amendment's intent. Limitations on certain types of weapons that Joe Everyman can own, restrictions on certain types of people having access to guns - it seems to me that they would have wanted that in today's world. I don't think such limitations go against what they had in mind, even while I recognize my more conservative friends' fear that once you limit certain types of gun ownership, you're on a slippery slope that can lead to a near total gun ownership ban. They've got a point, but I still think the responsible and rational course of action, consistent with what the Founding Fathers had in mind, would be to have some limits on the right to bear arms. We do, after all, need laws that deal with the realities of today, not of those 220 years ago.

Let's consider the Fourteenth Amendment from a similar perspective. Following the Civil War, the states ratified the proposition that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." This, of course, was primarily about making former black slaves, as well as Native Americans (Indians), U.S. citizens. There was no such thing as an "illegal-immigrant" in the U.S. at that time. In 1868, when the Amendment was added to the Constitution, huge swaths of the country were still unpopulated and immigrants were actively encouraged to come to America with few if any restrictions. In fact, the first immigration law in the U.S. wasn't even passed until 1875. Obviously, the implications of granting citizenship to the children of people who had illegally entered the country was the farthest thing from anyone's mind back in 1868.

Fast forward to modern times and ask yourself: would the Amendment's authors, and the state legislators that ratified it, have wanted it to be abused the way that it is today? If those legislators could see the situation today, with all the problems of illegal immigration and with people purposely breaking the laws of the U.S. in order to have their child born here, do you think they would want that child to be rewarded with U.S. citizenship? Obviously, I don't.

I still have mixed feelings about what to do with illegal immigrants overall, as my earlier writings on the topic indicate. But on this one small issue, it seems like there is an obvious and simple answer. Why should we not adjust the Amendment to reflect our modern realities? As with the right to bear arms, our government has an obligation to operate under laws that make sense given today's realities, not in the world as it was 150 years ago. We do, after all, pride ourselves on being a nation of laws; requiring that someone be here in line with our laws in order to get citizenship - how is that a problem? Perhaps something as simple as adding the word "legally" in front of the phrase "born" in the Amendment, although it would probably have to be more like "born to a mother who was legally in the country at the time" - or whatever.

How, exactly, would this modification detract from the Constitution, the rights of legitimate American citizens, etc? It's a huge stretch, IMO, to say that such a minor, simple, and logical change sets a precedent for weakening our Constitution and our constitutional rights. Similarly, the answer to those who say: well, if we change this Amendment, what happens to those who were born here under illegal circumstances before the change? That's a simple one: they are grandfathered (exempt from the change), just as people are usually grandfathered when any new law changes the rules.

As this site's title reminds us, things usually aren't as simple as we think they are. So maybe I'm missing something here. One problem may be that we really don't want to start tinkering with the wording of Amendments; changing Amendments is a serious and difficult process. Well fine; just as with the Second Amendment, we could simply allow the courts to rule that not granting citizenship to children of parents of illegal status doesn't violate the intent of the Amendment. Because, if it's OK to tweak the 2nd Amendment to fit the times, then why doesn't the same apply to the 14th? What's good for the Goose.... as they say.

21 comments:

viridiana murrieta said...

I really liked this article I really felt like it was just one sided. But on the other hand it helps so we can give our own oppinion.

Anonymous said...

Although the 2nd and 14th amendments focus on different topics, tinkering with them might be the only choice we have if we are going to improve the U.S. in the future. In my opinion, we must clarify certain limitations for our times but not violate the true intent, but of course, it's not that simple.

-Haley Davis 3B

Xavier said...

I believe that this amendment should be changed. The United States as well as the rest of the world is experiencing economic hardship and we cannot afford (literally) to sustain illegal immigrants. The reason for this is that they cost taxpayers money that they don't have with the trillions of dollars of debt we have. Any time an illegal immigrant goes to a hospital to get checked or to have a baby or because they got in an accident, taxpayers are paying for it because illegal immigrants don't pay taxes. Also many of them don't have valid drivers licenses which also costs us money. My grand father who lives in Escondido was on the road waiting for a red light to change when suddenly a car smashes right into him not before hitting several other cars and finally killing my grandfathers friend who happened to be in the passenger seat right next to him. That could have been my grandpa! The man turned out to be an illegal immigrant who was running from the police so as not to get deported. This is not the only incident that has happened to my family or friends involving accidents with illegal immigrants. It's things like this that cost us money and time. Sure America's "land of the free" and anyone who want's to should be able to come and have their children here... well no, like the blog said not if it's done illegally. I agree with what the blog says about tweaking the amendment because its not unheard of in fact my entire EE is based on how the FIRST amendment one of the most important to our country was tweaked in the late 1900's several times (not what it says but it's meaning)and the last time I checked our Constitution says basically the same thing even since then! So no it's not a big deal to tweak it and yes I think it should be tweaked.

xander said...

As written about in this blog, I agree with the position of the anti-immigrant groups that the children of illegal immigrants should not automatically be granted U.S. citizenship because they are born in the U.S. I think that the 14th amendment should be rewritten to reflect this. The U.S. is one of the few countries that still allow this so, I think it's about time that the U.S. catches up with everyone else. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the U.S. has so many issues with illegal immigration when compared to other countries.

Elizabeth Kenyon said...

Overall, I agree with the majority of what you wrote. However, the gun law doesn't really affect me because I'm most likely never going to own a gun for protectional reasons or for hunting reasons. How this amendment relates to the 14th amendment, I'm not entirely sure. Although, I know that these amendments are both highly controversial. In regards to the 2nd amendment, I believe that if you're born in the U.S., you should be a U.S. citizen, just plain and simple and nothing in between.

Mary Torres 1B said...

I do agree with some parts of this article, but one has to think about what the effect of a change in the amendments will cause. I am pretty sure that if the fourteenth amendment, or the second amendment are changed there will be along list of many other laws people will want to change. The truth is that people focus on the negative side of things. There are some people that use guns to kill, but not everyone owns guns for that purpose. People do come here illegally, but one can't blame the child of an "immigrant" for the decision the parent made.

robin said...

In this essay it also mentions that pregnant mothers come here illegally so that their child becomes a U.S citizen, what I wonder is why does it matter? Are they doing any harm to us? Since it is a huge problem to most Americans, I understand that something must be done to solve this problem but I honestly don’t know what the right thing to do is.

Diane said...

Despite the many convictions towards the “anti’s,” whom belief that their actions are caused due to racism. As you stated in the blog, this type of policy has happen during the United States History. Although, to the extent of changing amendments was never introduced of Citizenship. For during the time when there was a great effort to limit, to the point of stopping, Chinese immigrants into the country, the only difference was that they were coming into the country legally.

Diane M.

Corina virk said...

This Article does bring up some valid points and I do agree with some of them but I don't really think that the 14th amendment should be changed because i believe that there isn't people getting killed because of that right but the 2nd Amendment applies to that example.

Anonymous said...

This is one your best blog essays by far. We here people complaining all the time when they here the budget cuts will be directly affecting them. The bottom line is that something needs to be cut and people need to deal with that. That is why I liked the comment made about well if you dont like it, what is your suggestion? People whine about that all the time but the fact is that they never come up with solutions.
-Francisco Madrigal

Anonymous said...

I too must say that this essay was one sided. It didnt really explore the other side; the illegal immigrants side. The truth is that people do get to this country illegaly to have their babies born here. Is that bad? Is there something wrong with wanting your kids to grow having all the possible help they can get to succeed in life?
-Francisco Madrigal

Iman Khatib said...

Like Viri said, this article was looking a bit at one side. I guess that's because the bad out weighs the good by a lot more. Illegal immigrants and guns, yeah not so good, but this articles was very informing, and I agree with most of the facts that you had pointed out

Anayeli said...

Trying to change the constitution at this point is impossible. The constitution was established by the Founding Fathers and important government officials to establish order in our nation. If we start playing around with the constitution just to please a group of people, other amendments will change resulting in the destruction of the constitution. There is a reason for all those amendments and I am sure that the government officials, who proposed and passed them, reviewed every single clause and thought each and every one of them thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with where Mr. Strebler stands on this topic. He believes that if it’s okay to change the second amendment then it should be okay to change the fourteenth. Sometimes rules need to be changed with the circumstances they are present in. The times have changed and the rules have to be bent a little to protect everyone.

-Eddie Sanchez 3b

Kendra Romero said...

As Viri said, this article is too one sided, but it really expresses your reasoning clearly, so good job. i think that your reasoning makes sense, but i'm not too sure on whether changing the fourteenth amendment is good.the lack of people would definitely benefit unemployment, but i don't think they are the main problem.also, in contrast to what Xavier commented, illegal immigrants do pay taxes(i'm not saying most or the min. but they do) and sadly, they don't get much back.

Jasmine West 3A said...

I agree with some of the things on this topic except for the views on the right to bear arms and citizenship for kids born in the U.S by illegal immigrants. Every individual does not need guns because it is highly dangerous and unncecessary. A kid should have the choice in the matter whether or not they want to stay in America or go back with their parents.

Katie Whitelock said...

Amendments are defined as slight changes in a document. In terms of the Constitution, because of the changes and newly faced problems, as a nation we have been able to make amendments to the Constitution. Regardless of whether you believe that the 14th Amendment or 2nd Amendment should be changed, shouldn’t we be able to make amendments to the Amendments? In terms of the 14th Amendment, I feel as though regardless of whether it should be enforced, there needs to be some sort of reform to the United State’s current legal immigration system. If the legal immigration system becomes more efficient, people will have less incentive to try and obtain citizenship illegally. As for the 2nd Amendment, I feel as though more security should be involved to ensure that these potentially deadly weapons are secured from those who may misuse them. I believe that as a rapidly changing nation, we should be able to make amendments to the Amendments as seen necessary for our changing country yet we should always be mindful of the intention of our Founding Fathers.

Kristen Phung 2B said...

I believe that the fourteenth amendment should be changed so that children from the illegal immigrants are not automatically declared citizenship. There is process that people can go through to attain citizenship, so its not fair to others that they basically are cutting in line.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the fact that as times progress we must progress with them. The US is a completely different place then it was when the constitution was written and the rules need to be changed to fit the times we live in today. Weapons are more advanced and there are more immigrants then we can handle. We can't live in the past and our laws need to reflect that.

Anonymous said...

This article is understanding due to the fact that the Founding Fathers left us unclear of each law. Since times change, laws are not going to change but the court can help solve issues within each amendment. And if one cannot fully understand "the right to bear arms" then they should just not be allowed to own a gun. While with amendment 2, the laws of immigration will then take away the core value of American ideals. Thus, the two laws are going to stay the same but can only change within the courts.

-Karla Zuniga 3A

Chantel Heard said...

I don't believe that the blog was one sided as some have said previously. It is difficult to make a decision on what to do with children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. In modern day there are both ethical and economical reasons to discuss such as population growth and the parents residency. The same goes for gun laws. Guns have improved hunting and are needed to defend our country considering that other countries have weapons as well... The U.S has changed and the country needs to be prepared to adapt.