Few Nations Give Guarantees Like 14th Amendment

The thought of revoking the 14th Amendment seems absurd, even impossible, to some. But few other countries in the developed world guarantee "birthright citizenship." John Skrentny, sociology professor at the University of California at San Diego, fills in host Guy Raz about how jus soli — "the right of the soil" — is exceptional.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, host:

Now, many opponents of so-called birthright citizenship point to other western countries where birth doesn't equal citizenship. And as U.C. San Diego sociologist John Skrentny points out, not a single European country allows it.

Dr. JOHN SKRENTNY (Co-Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies; Sociologist, University of California, San Diego): We're an anomaly in many ways. And the ease with which one can be a citizen is one of them, which is not to say that there's no other countries in the world that have citizenship laws that are similar to ours.

On the one hand, there are what are called ethnic nations. Ethnic nations tend to have what are called jus sanguinis citizenship laws. And you can tell from the words sanguinis, there's this notion of blood there.

RAZ: Blood.

Dr. SKRENTNY: Yeah, if you know Spanish at all, sangre. And the idea there is that the nation, the people are bonded together through ancestry. That is the most common conception of nationhood or peoplehood in the world.

The other notion of nationhood is generally understood as a civic notion of nationhood. And this is the idea that folks are bonded together by where they are, by locality and by the ideas that they might share. And that's what we have in the United States. There are folks who say that, you know, to be an American is to embrace an idea.

RAZ: If legal scholars who supported this idea of either changing the 14th Amendment or passing a statute that would end automatic citizenship by birth, if they were looking for precedents, they might look overseas. There are many countries that have passed laws in recent years that, you know, effectively deny automatic citizenship to people born in those countries.

Australia did it in 2007, New Zealand in 2006, Ireland in 2005. Why couldn't that be done in this country?

Dr. SKRENTNY: Well, the difference is numbers. The United States receives more immigrants than any other country in the world. Throughout the 1990s, we were receiving between 700,000 and a million new immigrants a year. About a third of those were undocumented.

And so if you are not going to grant birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants here, you're going to have just a much larger number of folks who are effectively stateless, who don't have any country to call home, who it's not obvious where you would deport them.

The likelihood is that many of them would end up staying, and the likelihood is that they wouldn't have access to rights in the United States. They would be excluded from different programs. And for many Americans, they might look at that situation and say, is this the kind of country that we want to be?

RAZ: John Skrentny, let's imagine for a moment that the 14th Amendment does get repealed. Do you think it would have a dramatic impact on illegal immigration in this country? Do you think you would see the numbers of illegal immigrants drop?

Dr. SKRENTNY: No, I don't think so at all. And, again, the experience of Europe is helpful here. Europe is becoming a very diverse place. And you hear on the news, you know, increasing numbers of Muslim populations there and non-white populations in Europe. A lot of that happened in the 1950s and 1960s when European states were bringing on guest workers who were supposed to just stay for a few years, many of them brought their kids. And when they brought their kids, they tended to stay.

And in the United States, we have a similar situation. Most - the vast majority of the migrants who come here are coming for economic reasons. They bring their kids because they want to be with their kids because they love them. They're not making rational, long-term calculations on this as much as they are just short-term trying to get by.

RAZ: That's John Skrentny. He is the co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and a professor of sociology at the University of California in San Diego.

John Skrentny, thank you so much.

Dr. SKRENTNY: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: