The book Taking Local Control: Immigration Policy Activism in U.S. Cities and States has just been released. Edited by Monica Varsanyi, Associate Professor of Political Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it is the result of a 2008 conference hosted by CCIS.
CCIS Director John Skrentny was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered.
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.
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.
BY AMY ISACKSON JULY 22, 2010
Despite the economic downturn, the desire to work and live in the U.S. continues to drive migrants north. As part of our Envision series “Crossing the Line: Border Stories,” we bring you the story of one man who understands that desire well.
Rogelio Mendez comes from the village of Tlacotepec in Oaxaca. It’s about 1,700 miles south of San Diego, nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Many people there speak the indigenous language Mixtec. Half the homes have dirt floors. But many of the cars have California license plates. And, like other villages dotted around Oaxaca, people can rattle off the names of freeway exits in San Diego.
That’s because, for the last 70 years, men like Rogelio Mendez have headed north to San Diego to find jobs. “We’re the kids
of an ex-bracero. They told us that in the United States the
dollar was worth something, more than the Mexican peso,
” says Mendez.
Mendez sits in a wooden chair in the living room of the small pink stucco home he rents in Spring Valley, and travels back in his mind to that first border crossing.
“It was 1974, when I was really young. My cousin brought me and my dad and big brother. We found my cousin’s relatives in Colonia Libertad in Tijuana. One of the kids helped us cross,” recalls Mendez.
In those days, there was barely a fence. “There was barbed wire. There were a few fence panels, but there were a lot of holes,” says Mendez.
There weren’t motion sensors or infrared cameras like there are these days. “The Border Patrol wasn’t so strict. You could cross where you wanted to,” muses Mendez.
Mendez, his dad and his brother eventually landed work in the fields in California. “We didn’t have money or food. We ate tomatoes and a plant we recognized from Oaxaca for three weeks, until our first check arrived,” he says.
They lived in a canyon. When the picking season ended, they went back to Mexico.
Mendez repeated this pattern for a dozen years.
His brother taught him how to do roofing and his wages went up.
In 1986, along with nearly three million other illegal immigrants, Mendez earned residency in the United States under the immigration reform act.
Mendez went through ups and downs, but he was able to work most of the time. He says, “We were able to send home four or five-hundred dollars a month. I built a house in
Mendez brought his family to San Diego.
In 2004, 30 years after he first crossed the border, he bought a home here. Many of his friends and family from Oaxaca did, too. “We all bought. Then we all lost. I think we are in the worst crisis in the United States,” laments Mendez.
The economic crisis is visible on street corners across San Diego County, like this one in Vista. Men read the newspaper and tap their toes as they wait for someone to drive by and offer them work. The men say some days eight hours pass and they still don’t get jobs.
Jorge Ruiz has picked up work on North County street corners for 20 years. He also earned his residency with immigration reform in 1986.
He says he used to earn $20 to $30 an hour. Now, it’s $8. He hasn’t worked in two weeks.
“A lot of the time, you just have to endure the hunger. It’s tremendous suffering. I don’t have anything. And the family in Mexico, they say, hey, what about your kids here and paying for their school? But, I haven’t worked. I’m living out in a field,” says Ruiz.
He says many of his friends who can’t make rent anymore moved back into the canyons.
Mendez says, even so, it’s still more attractive to stay here than go back to Mexico. “Many people don’t leave because their kids were born here. Even if they’re just working once or twice a week, they can dress them. If they go south, there’s no work,” he says.
UCSD Professor Wayne Cornelius studied migration in the small Oaxacan village where Mendez is from.
He says people there and in villages throughout Mexico have been hit by the economic downturn in the U.S. and Mexico. “It’s been far more severe in Mexico than it has been in the United States. So it’s required a great deal of ingenuity to ride this out on both sides of the border,” says Cornelius.
Mendez says he has an idea.
He’s working on plans, with three San Diego engineers, to tap into underground aquifers in his village back home to irrigate hundreds of acres of arable land.
“A big water project like that will need machines and workers. We’ll create work. And why will they come here if they have work there?” questions Mendez.
He says a reliable water source will grow new crops and new life in the village.
Wayne Cornelius says that might provide an incentive for older people to stay put. But for 17-year-olds raised on the idea that they’ll go north, farming doesn’t compete with the possibility of, say, an iPhone in the U.S.
BY JOANNE FARYON JULY 20, 2010
SAN DIEGO — Three million unauthorized immigrants live here in California. The statistics raise an important economic question – just what are the financial implications of such a large undocumented population?
It’s a question Martha Torkington asks herself often. She owns a horse ranch in the south westerly edge of San Diego County.
“You can look up on the hillside and see the tracks. They look almost like water tracks but they are human tracks coming down,” Torkington says, pointing to the faded yellow tracks that traverse down the hillside across from her property.
On the other side of the hill is Mexico. Torkington has seen her share of unauthorized immigration trickle past this hillside.
“The ones who do want to come in and contribute and participate in the United States, we want them. The other side is we don’t want to support them. It’s tough. It’s a tough situation.”
Just whether unauthorized immigrants cost more than they contribute is a complicated question.
“Immigration most sociologists will tell you have short term costs but long term benefits,” says John Skrentny, a UCSD sociology professor and director of The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.
“The fiscal impact tends to be positive for the federal government and negative for localities and states,” Skrentny says.
A few years ago the Congressional Budget Office looked at the various studies of the financial impacts of unauthorized immigrants to state and local budgets.
Their report looked at health care, law enforcement, and education.
About two million school age children in the U.S. are unauthorized immigrants. By law, all children have access to public school regardless of their immigration status. Studies estimate it costs between 20 and 40 percent more to teach kids who are not fluent in English.
Richard Barrera is president of the San Diego Unified School district. He says the benefits of educating all kids far outweigh the costs.
“We realize that every kid we educate is going to be a contributor to our community and our country. We all benefit when we educated children. “
Many of the financial impact studies conclude that at the local and state level, the cost of providing education, health care and law enforcement cost more then unauthorized immigrants pay in taxes. Especially here in California, the state with the greatest number of unauthorized immigrants. However, at the federal level, and over the long-run, it’s a different story.
”It would be different if were getting waves of undocumented elderly who would come here and impose immediately all kinds of costs on the health care system and they wouldn’t be working and they wouldn’t be generating much tax revenue they wouldn’t be generating much wealth that would be a different story,” Skrentny says.
Studies also show half of all unauthorized immigrants file income tax returns and many pay sales and property taxes.
Richard Barrera believes the debate over the cost of unauthorized immigration is being fueled by bad economic times and politicians offering easy answers to complex problems.
“They want an easy answer and they want to be able to say if we only took a group and their families and we rounded them up and took them back across the border, that our lives would get easier.”
Martha Torkington points to a black knit cap she sees on the hillside as she tours a journalist along the hills separating the U.S. from Mexico.
“That’s a perfect example of a piece of clothing you’ll see on the trails that they follow,” Torkington says.
The cap is a hallmark of an illegal trek made in the dark – migrants wear black to cross in the night and then discard their clothes for more “American-looking” clothes, Torkington says.
There are also two U.S. Border Patrol trucks making their way through the hills and a series of lights that almost make the hillside look like a ballpark.
It turns out one of the largest and most tangible costs of unauthorized immigration is right here in front of Martha Torkington’s property.
It is the cost of keeping undocumented migrants from
jumping the fence and crossing over this hill.
This year the U.S. Border Patrol will spend $3.6 billion patrolling the country’s borders — almost triple the amount spent 10 years ago.
BY ALIA BEARD RAU JULY 3, 2010
When it comes to immigration, the United States has come full circle . . . again.
As Arizona’s new immigration law pushes the issue into the national spotlight, decades-old arguments over government policy, economic needs and human rights are being raised in a politicized confrontation over what it means to be an American.
On one side, many fear illegal immigrants are taking their jobs, spreading violence and changing American culture. On the other side, many believe the tide of opposition will result in discrimination, racial profiling and the denial of constitutional rights.
As with previous immigrant waves, a chorus is rising among many citizens that something must be done. Politicians are responding with new laws. Immigrants are leaving.
Throughout America’s history, this pattern has repeated over and over: There’s a need for immigrant labor; immigrants arrive; residents become fearful; laws are passed trying to stem the flow or make life difficult enough that the immigrants will leave; immigrants leave; there’s a need for labor.
Historians say the cycle can be seen with the arrival of Irish immigrants starting in the 1820s, Chinese in the late 1870s, Germans and Italians at the start of the 1900s and Mexicans over the past 100 years.
“We go through it every 20 years or so,” said Arizona State University Mexican history professor Jaime Aguila. “It leads to a massive debate about what it means to be a U.S. citizen and what it means to contribute to the economy of the United States.”
John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, said the unique characteristics of this latest wave – the increased impact on taxpayers and larger number of illegal immigrants – haven’t changed the cycle of response or the rhetoric.
Benjamin Franklin criticized Germans who lived among themselves, did not speak English or adopt American customs, Skrentny said.
“You hear that almost exact line of argument today,” he said.
Arizona’s responses to illegal immigration have included passing Senate Bill 1070, making English the official language, pushing for more border enforcement and requiring employers to verify employees’ legal status. The goal, SB 1070 authors have said, is to deter illegal immigrants from wanting to be in Arizona.
That goal is echoed in many of the laws passed by state and federal governments over the past nearly 200 years.
1820 to 1879
The first major immigration wave since the United States became a nation started in the 1820s and lasted until a recession in the late 1870s. The wave brought about 7.5 million immigrants, primarily from northern and western Europe. Specifically, about a third of those were Irish fleeing that country’s potato famine.
America, still booming from the Industrial Revolution, offered opportunity.
“When we look at history, you see that immigration goes up in times of economic prosperity and down when the economy is not doing so well,” said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center. The influx spurred opposition from many citizens, who said Irish immigrants were taking Americans’ jobs and opposed the immigrants’ religion. Politicians demanded laws to make it harder for foreigners to become U.S. citizens.
In 1875, the U.S. passed its first restrictive immigration law. It prevented prostitutes and convicts from entering the country.
“Throughout history, it is the laws that really define who is legal and who is illegal,” Waslin said. “At different parts of U.S. history, different groups have been illegal depending on what law there was at the time.”
1880 to 1929
The second wave of immigration spanned the 1880s to the early 1920s, falling off drastically during the Great Depression. It brought more than 23 million immigrants, primarily from southern and western Europe.
The majority were from Germany early in the wave and Italy later. Germans were seeking religious freedom and available farmland, while Italians were fleeing overcrowding, low wages and high taxes.
Also during this period, there was an influx of Chinese workers in search of available jobs building the transcontinental railroad.
“Chinese were coming here, and a lot of Americans were feeling threatened by them economically,” Skrentny said.
He said Chinese were barred from certain types of jobs, so particularly in California, many started laundries.
“In San Francisco, people started to feel uncomfortable that all the laundromats were owned by Chinese people, and so they passed a law that said laundromats couldn’t be made out of wood . . . and then began enforcing this law only on Chinese people,” he said.
At the time, nearly all laundries were made of wood.
The 1880 ordinance was deemed unconstitutional in 1886 by the U.S. Supreme Court, but there were several other state and federal laws passed during this time that also targeted immigrants of Asian descent.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from coming to the U.S. It wasn’t repealed until 1943.
In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law, which prevented Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants from owning property. Ten other states followed with similar laws over the next decade. In 1952, the California Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional.
In 1917, Congress began requiring immigrants to take a literacy test and barred people living in most of eastern Asia and the Pacific islands from immigrating to the U.S. These also were later abolished.
Aguila said Mexican immigration was encouraged during this period, mainly because farmers needed laborers to fill the vacancies left by the men who were serving in World War I as well as the decline in Chinese laborers as a result of restrictive laws.
“The belief was that Mexicans were more suited to do agricultural labor than Chinese because Mexicans would come in as migrant labor and once the work was over, they would go back,” Aguila said.
Job opportunities resulted in an increase in immigrants from Mexico, and resentment toward Mexicans began to develop.
The U.S. Border Patrol was created in 1924 to help prevent illegal entry across the Mexican and Canadian borders.
1930 to 1964
During the Great Depression between 1929 and about 1939, there was enormous public outcry that Mexican immigrants were taking jobs unemployed Americans needed.
“That caused a huge backlash with people who felt that Mexicans were overrunning their neighborhoods. . . . They were scapegoated as occupying jobs,” Texas Tech University history professor Miguel Levario said.
The response was a joint local and federal effort called the Mexican Repatriation, which lasted throughout the 1930s. It included raids, roundups and the denial of jobs to Mexicans. As with Arizona’s SB 1070, the goal was two-pronged: to enforce the laws and use them as a deterrent to persuade immigrants to leave on their own.
Either forcibly or on their own, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Michigan to California returned to Mexico. Some who were forced out were U.S. citizens, though the exact number is unknown. “It didn’t do anything to alleviate unemployment,” Levario said.
He said the effort ended when farmers, employers and housewives began complaining that they were losing workers.
World War II again created a need for labor to fill jobs left by military personnel.
From 1942 through 1964, Mexican nationals were allowed to come to the U.S. through a temporary-worker program called the Bracero Program.
“By then, there are over a million Mexicans a year coming to the U.S. to work both illegally and legally,” Aguila said.
In 1954, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service decided it needed to do something to stop the increased inflow of illegal immigrants and started what it called “Operation Wetback” to try to deport Mexican nationals. Modeled after the Mexican Repatriation, it involved a joint effort of local and federal law enforcement in California and Arizona.
Efforts included sweeps of Mexican-American neighborhoods and random stops and identification checks of individuals who looked Mexican. Again, there were cases of U.S. citizens being deported along with illegal immigrants.
To discourage re-entry, deportees were taken to central and southern Mexico before being released.
In all, hundreds of thousands were returned to Mexico, either forcibly or on their own.
Levario said Operation Wetback lasted about a year before being halted because of budget constraints and complaints from farmers that they were losing laborers they needed.
1965 to today
The most recent wave of immigrants began in 1965 when Congress replaced a system of quotas based on country of origin with one that uses different calculations to allocate a certain number of visas to each country. Preference is given to individuals who have either special skills or relatives who are U.S. citizens.
Since then, more than 100 million legal and illegal immigrants have entered the United States, with the majority coming from Mexico in search of jobs.
Aguila said the new system gave Mexicans about 30,000 visas a year.
“The economy in the American Southwest was demanding half a million to a million workers,” he said. “Setting a cap of 30,000 for Mexico encouraged more illegal immigration.”
He said in about 1970, federal immigration-reform discussions began again. In 1986, Congress passed new regulations that, among other things, required employers to vouch for employees’ immigration status, granted amnesty to certain immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1982, made it a crime to knowingly hire illegal immigrants and created a citizenship path for certain agricultural workers.
Again politicians promised that would secure the border and end immigration problems.
Levario said enforcement efforts did result in a decrease in immigration numbers.
“But it’s just a temporary Band-Aid,” he said. “Like in the 1930s, once the economy improves, you’ll see another spike in the numbers.”
Aguila said federal efforts such as the war on drugs and the increase of border enforcement helped increase the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. by making it difficult for migrants to go back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico for work.
“Mexicans began to stay rather than go home and risk not being able to return when labor was needed,” he said.
In the past 20 years, the public backlash began to rise again.
Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, who helped write Arizona’s new immigration law, said this wave is the largest and longest-lasting the nation has ever seen.
And unlike with past generations, Kobach said, these immigrants are able to take more advantage of taxpayer-funded social services.
“That changes everything,” Kobach said. “The cost of illegal immigration to state governments and the taxpayers is so much greater than it ever was.”
In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, which prohibited illegal immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services. It was later deemed unconstitutional and never enforced.
“It was very similar to SB 1070, at least in its objective to make conditions so difficult for undocumented workers that they leave,” Aguila said.
Arizona’s immigration law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. It states that an officer engaged in a lawful stop, detention or arrest shall, when practicable, ask about a person’s legal status when reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the U.S. illegally.
The law goes into effect July 29. Five lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging its constitutionality.
Incidents at border intensify debate over immigration policy
BY LESLIE BERESTEIN JUNE 14, 2010
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who worked in construction, was shot with a Taser while being deported in May 2010. He suffered a heart attack and died. — Family photo
The deaths of two people during confrontations with border officials in recent weeks, one in San Diego and one in El Paso, have pushed an already-heated debate over illegal immigration to the boiling point.
On May 28, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 42, was shot with a Taser stun gun by a U.S Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing after he resisted agents trying to send him back to Mexico. He later died.
Last Monday, 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca was fatally shot by a U.S. Border Patrol agent after a group he was with on the Mexican side of the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez threw rocks at U.S. agents.
John Skrentny, a sociologist and the new director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, said the tone of the immigration debate has given special significance to the events at the border, with controversy raging over a new immigration law in Arizona and the Obama administration under fire for not overhauling national immigration laws.
“An incident like this, coming into this atmosphere, becomes symbolic,” Skrentny said.
At a San Diego news conference Thursday attended by Hernandez’s family members, an attorney representing the deceased man’s children said an administrative complaint would soon be filed against the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. If the federal government rejects the complaint, the family can file a wrongful-death civil lawsuit after six months, attorney Eugene Iredale said.
In Lemon Grove last week, a crowd of about 300 attended the funeral for Hernandez, a father of five who moved to the United States illegally from Mexico as a teen and lived in Encanto.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón has weighed in, issuing a statement saying his government is “shocked and outraged” by the two deaths and calling for a thorough investigation.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the shooting in Texas “extremely regrettable.” He said that the FBI is investigating both incidents and that the shared interests of both countries would continue to keep the binational relationship strong.
U.S. federal authorities have otherwise declined to comment about the incidents.
Hernandez had been picked up by immigration authorities and sent back to Mexico the last week of May. According to San Diego police, who are investigating his death, he was arrested by Border Patrol agents with his brother May 28 in the Otay Mountain area, trying to re-enter illegally. As he was about to be returned that night, he allegedly tried to fight the agents unloading him from a van. More agents and customs officers were called to assist.
According to a witness, Hernandez was prone with close to 20 officers around him at one point. Humberto Navarrete, a 24-year-old student from National City, said he heard screams as he and a companion were walking toward the border turnstile.
In a grainy cell phone video taken by Navarrete, a man is heard repeatedly screaming “No!” and “Por favor!” (please).
He said the man was eventually moved farther away, after which he heard about five shocks from the stun gun. After that, he said, the man fell silent. An ambulance appeared several minutes later.
Hernandez was declared brain-dead in a Chula Vista hospital the next day and was eventually removed from life support.
According to the county Medical Examiner’s Office, he suffered a heart attack, with hypertension, methamphetamine intoxication and the fight contributing.
Federal agencies are referring inquiries to San Diego police, but in recent days, the union representing Border Patrol agents has come forward. In a statement regarding the El Paso shooting, the National Border Patrol Council pointed out that “rocks are weapons and constitute deadly force” and that agents must defend themselves.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the union’s Local 1613 in San Diego, said weapons such as Taser stun guns, pepper spray or batons aren’t used unless a subject is actively resisting. And while these aren’t intended to be lethal, sometimes they can be.
“There are always going to be exceptions where there is an underlying problem,” Moran said. “It can happen with pepper spray. It can happen with a baton. They are supposed to be less than lethal, but there is always the chance that there is some unfortunate incident.”
In the past four years, four migrants or suspected smugglers have been killed in confrontations with border officials in the San Diego area, including a suspected smuggler who accelerated toward a customs officer, a man who grabbed a Border Patrol agent’s gun, and another man shot during a rock-throwing altercation with Border Patrol agents.
San Diego police are interviewing witnesses to the Taser incident. The homicide unit can be reached at (619) 531-2293.
A bill in the House of Representatives would change the 14th amendment to the US Constitution that grants anyone who is born on US soil the right of American citizenship. Efforts to revoke birthright citizenship could make it the new flashpoint in the debate over immigration.
BY MATT ROCHELEAU JUNE 2, 2010
New American citizens are sworn in at a citizenship ceremony in Boise, Idaho.
Anyone born on American soil is an American.
That’s an unconditional right, according to the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
It’s not an exclusively American practice. Worldwide, about 30 nations (mostly in the Western Hemisphere) have similar birthright citizenship policy. Citizenship based on where a person is born, is called jus soli which is Latin for “right of the soil.”
But jus soli is primarily a New World right. Today, there are no European nations that grant jus soli. Most countries in Europe use a jus sanguinis policy, which determines citizenship based on having an ancestor who is a citizen.
A bill making its way through Congress, if passed, would bring the US more into line with current European birthright policies. But in the wake of the controversy over Arizona‘s new immigration policy, any changes to the 14th amendment would likely become another flashpoint in the debate over illegal immigrants.
“Many countries do not grant birthright citizenship because they have older histories and see themselves as individual nations with individual identities,” explains John Skrentny, Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and sociology professor at the University of California at San Diego. “Whereas the United States, like many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, began as, and has always seen itself as, a melting pot,” he says.
In recent years, other nations, even if they seem themselves as open to legal immigrants, have taken steps limit the size of any demographic boost based on births to foreigners.
In 1983, for example, England amended its jus soli policy so that children born in the United Kingdom were only granted citizenship if one of their parents was either a citizen or could prove some sort of permanent residency in the country.
And India moved away from granting birthright citizenship in late 2004 to only allowing those born in the country to gain citizenship if both parents are citizens or if one parent is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal immigrant.
In the US, those opposed to this form of granting citizenship would like to revise the 14th amendment, which says, in part:
The14th amendment was passed after the Civil War with the intent of clarifying that former slaves were citizens and entitled to Constitutional rights. Since then, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld that birthright of children born to foreigners in the US, including a 1898 challenge concerning children of non-citizen Chinese immigrants.
How many children of illegal immigrants are born in the US each year?
But in April, the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based, nonpartisan organization, released a report that estimated the number of children of illegal immigrants, who received citizenship by birth on U.S. soil, has risen by nearly 50 percent from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. One-third of those children live in poverty, which is nearly double the poverty rate for children of US-born parents.
According to the “Birthright Citizenship Act” bill, which has 91 cosponsors, the proposed changes would affect the Fourteenth Amendment and only grant citizenship “if the person is born in the United States of parents, one of whom is:”
- a citizen or national of the United States;
- an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States whose residence is in the United States; or
- an alien performing active service in the armed forces (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States Code).”
But getting such changes through both houses of Congress is a long shot.
“I’d be surprised,” if the bill passes, says Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national employer group that supports immigration reform that secures borders, strengthens workplace laws, and brings the immigrants already in the country into, and paying into, the system. “This does come up every so often … but it hasn’t gotten much traction in the past,”
However, some immigration reform advocates argue that federal courts have never specifically faced the question of whether children born to illegal immigrant parents should be granted citizenship, according to a recent NPR article.
A list of countries, by population, that grant birthright citizenship:
- United States
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saint Christopher and Nevis
Two CCIS books were reviewed recently. Salavador Rivera describes Four Generations of Norteños as “a readable study emphasizing the dynamics of the vibrant U.S.-Mexican border region” in Multicultural Review. Meanwhile, Cecilia Farfán Méndez writes in Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica of Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis: “This book is essential for those who study migration patterns and look to understand how the new security measures at the border, combined with the economic crisis, affect the decision to migrate and whether to stay home or remain in the United States.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, reviewer Geri Spiegler describes Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis as containing information “accumulated over many years that is presented thoughtfully, well researched, and without drama that affirm this
scholarly textbook a place both on an academic shelf and well
beyond the classroom.”
BY GERI SPIELER JUNE 8, 2010
Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis: A Transnational Perspective, Edited by Wayne A. Cornelius, David Fitzgerald, Pedro Lewin Fisher, and Leah Muse-Orlinoff
(Center for Comparative Immigration, February 2010)
As with any social phenomena, an attempt to corral the scope of the issue into a single pen will leave many purviews outside the gates.
In this particular examination of the flow of Mexican migrants into the United States, the authors state that the lack of jobs in the U.S.–not border enforcement–is postponing migration. However, although fewer people are coming over, the economic issues are still significantly troublesome for businesses, governments, and citizens on both sides of the border.
In Mexican Migration, the authors have taken slices of life and explored the dynamics surrounding each: coping, enforcement, economics, dual cultures, education, values, family dynamics, realities, and community. Each of the nine chapters offers its own conclusion to the study but ultimately they all end up with the same result: Mexican migration is damaging to the health, welfare, and cultural way of life for the Mexican people.
What differentiates Mexican Migration from other books on the same topic bursting onto the market today is a distinctive approach to the issue. The book is a follow-up to Mayan Journeys by the same editors and authors. The book is based on the Mexican Migration Field Research Study and Training Program (MMFRP) in the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, and San Diego.
The location is a small village in the Yucatan’s north-central region called Tunkás, a Mayan-speaking town of approximately 2,600 people. Although the book is an academic study, it has more of a feel of returning to a community of friends called Tunkaseños whom we have not seen in a while and are now catching up with their lives.
The Tunkaseños are a close group of people who only began migrating to the United States in the last 20 years. Before that and for many decades they have been moving back and forth to Mérida and other tourist communities on the Mayan Riviera (Cancún, Playa del Carmen) for better paying jobs only a few hundred miles from home.
Granted, this book is an industrial-strength academic production on Mexican migration, yet the laser-focus on one community’s struggle with survival brings a humanistic clarity not found in high atmosphere flyovers.
During the research process, every household in the tiny village was visited and usually everyone in the household was included in the discussions. This approach allows the authors to tell us in-depth personal stories about families they have gotten to know over the years.
We learn, for instance, that as the economy slowed down and fewer jobs were available for Mexican migrants, that Doña Yolanda and Doña Margarita pawned some of their family jewelry to pay household expenses. When prospective jobs never arrived, both lost their jewelry to the pawnshop.
Reducing expenses for the Tunkaseños meant looking for alternative sources of income. The study revealed informal yet complicated attempts by this tight-knit community to keep their family and households together.
“In addition to reducing expenses, many Tunkaseños are entering the informal economy in search of an alternate source of income. Some launch home-based businesses, such as selling prepared food to other town residents or engaging in traditional jobs that require low start-up investments, such as weaving hammocks. Identifying a profitable niche involves innovative thinking and a unique business strategy that enables someone to compete in the town’s large informal sector.”
Perhaps it is the approach the researchers used to reveal family disruption that made this book so much more meaningful and intimate. The book shines a brutal light on the stress of economics that pushes families apart. The grinding down of poverty on a family is exponentially confounded when one parent leaves the family home to live and work hundreds or thousands of miles away for long periods. In many situations, the separation is so great that the family is never reunited torn by time and broken relationships.
This scenario is not unique anywhere and always damaging to our society.
In Mexican Migration we learn how the Tunkaseño families struggle for solutions that are unique and surprising by looking for an “internal migration” opportunity that has a lower degree of disruption for the family. A job within Mexico, maybe at one of the many tourist resorts and hopefully just a few hundred miles away, will offer proximity and ease of communication reducing the overall financial and emotional costs. Even though the family may get higher wages elsewhere, the return for family togetherness is a price they will pay.
It seems like a logical and reasonable solution, yet it cannot always work. As an example of the struggle between internal and international migration, we hear about Señora López’s brother who migrated to Cancún to support his wife and children on the income he earned working in a fish market. Her husband, on the other hand, had to go to the United States, where higher salaries enabled him to pay for their son’s cancer treatments. Unfortunately, Señora López tells the researcher, in case he did not know, her son died anyway.
It is this detail of personal information accumulated over many years that is presented thoughtfully, well researched, and without drama that affirm this scholarly textbook a place both on an academic shelf and well beyond the classroom.
Reviewer Geri Spieler is a journalist and author. Her latest book, Taking Aim at The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford, was published by Palgrave Macmillan. Spieler is a book reviewer for The New York Journal of Books www.nyjournalofbooks.com, and is working on her next book about current political values.