A Birthright Citizen’s Take on Birthright Citizenship
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, President Trump vowed to end birthright citizenship for children born to non-citizens on U.S. soil. While experts agree the President can’t use an executive order to strip away this Constitutional right, it’s telling he thinks this is a winning issue for his fear-mongering political brand this November.
And it’s worth noting President Trump isn’t only referring to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. He’s going after families who are in the country legally as temporary residents. Critically, President Trump is playing off of an old, xenophobic fear that immigrants enter this country to have children so they can enjoy special benefits and leech off the hard work of “ordinary” Americans.
But this is dead wrong. Birthright citizenship confers basic rights to people who will spend their entire lives as Americans. In a country built by foreign settlers, birthright citizenship is one of the few sure ways of defining who is an American in the first place. And it confers essential guarantees – especially the right to vote – for living, breathing products of the American experiment who continue to shape its future every day.
I am a proud American birthright citizen. I was born in St. Louis to parents staying in the U.S. on temporary residency visas. With a Polish mom and Norwegian dad, I still like to joke I’m “European parts, assembled in America!”
And like many immigrant families, our situation wasn’t always stable. Early on my parents divorced, and my father was soon out of the picture. My mom was fortunate to secure a green card in the early 90’s, but contrary to popular belief, lawful permanent residence isn’t an ironclad guarantee of a future in the States, one degree removed from citizenship. And unlike me, my sister wasn’t born in the U.S., so just like my mom her life here was contingent on having a green card.
As she trained to become a practicing doctor, the pressure on my mom to succeed was already immense. Failure meant returning to Poland, a country still recovering from the traumas of authoritarianism. Through my childhood, we moved from state to state, never staying settled in one town for too long. It was a long and uncertain process. But despite those challenges, my citizenship gave my family a sense of belonging. It was the first in a long line of successes that ultimately culminated in my mom and sister becoming American citizens too. And we’re still here 27 years later.
As a first generation American, I’ve always been aware of how my citizenship has shaped the course of my life for the better. Full citizenship gave me the security of knowing I could always live right here where I was born. It meant I could pursue an education. It meant I would eventually marry a remarkable woman I couldn’t have met anywhere else. It meant I would grow up to fight for the basic human needs of my fellow Americans full-time as a field coordinator for CHN. I do believe, in all seriousness, that I am one of the most fortunate people on the planet. My American birthright citizenship was my ticket in, and I happily pay it forward every day.
I am telling you my story because the President wants to dehumanize the immigration debate for his own craven political gain. He wants you and me to forget we are all participating in the American experiment together. We cannot be gaslighted into forgetting that diversity – not hatred – is our strength. Let’s be stronger together, and stand up not only for birthright citizens, but for the rights of every human being the President is targeting.