Birthright Citizenship, Immigration and Asylum: Why Students Need to Start Paying Attention

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

By Indira Walsh (‘19) and Priyanka Sarkhel (‘20)


Photo courtesy of Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

A week before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump declared that he planned on signing an executive order that will end birthright citizenship of children born on the soil of the United States if their parents are undocumented or non-citizens. This decision sparked debates on whether or not the president can single handedly change the 14th Amendment, which states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

It is the second part of the amendment, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”, that stirs debate.


Global Studies and United States Government teacher Dr. Justin Negraval said, “There’s a caveat in there [the 14th amendment], ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’. That has always been the sticking point. Who is subject to the jurisdiction? When the amendment was originally written, you had Native Americans who were not subject to the jurisdiction, and their thing was that ‘We’re citizens of our nations, we’re citizens of our tribes, and the 14th amendment shouldn’t apply to us.’ The meaning of that caveat has kind of lost meaning over time.”


Trump’s executive order was proposed amidst mass focus on a caravan of Central American migrants heading towards the United States border.


Due to the timing of panic surrounding the caravan and the massive controversy caused by Trump’s proposed executive order, many political commentators were suggesting that the administration’s clamor over the migrant caravan has simply been a method of riling up conservative voters in time for the November midterms.


It can also be said that creation of tear gas issues at the border additionally caused many mainstream media outlets to obviously overtly cover migration discussion, as opposed to discussing implications of Russia seizing Ukrainian naval ships on the same day.


After proposing the executive order, the president moved on to changing rules regarding asylum seekers.


On November 9, Trump signed a proclamation denying asylum to immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally through the southern border.


According to The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, “Under federal law, immigrants are allowed to request asylum whether they enter the country illegally or present themselves at ports of entry. The Trump administration’s rule changes would prevent those who enter the country illegally from making an asylum claim, placing them in expedited deportation proceedings instead.”


The Trump administration stated that many people who are looking for asylum have “meritless” claims, despite the fact that many asylum seekers are fleeing from domestic abuse, targeted gang violence, government apathy towards gang control of neighborhoods, and other political, economic and social violences.


Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions made efforts to change who can be eligible for asylum, and declared that victims of domestic abuse or gang violence no longer are.


Though the United States has a fast news cycle and there seem to rarely be any ramifications for the multitudes of Trump-associated stories the media has expelled, discussion of birthright citizenship and the nature of asylum-seeking is woven into the fabric of the U.S.’s historic appeal.


The history behind asylum seekers and immigrants is not just restricted to the southern border, but it is prevalent all over the nation. Though these issues sometimes feel far away, discussion of immigration and asylum is part of New Jersey’s history as well.


In New Jersey, 20% of the population is comprised of immigrants, surpassed only by New York and California. New Jersey is also home to many refugees.


NJ's Attorney General Gurbir Grewal unveiled an Immigrant Trust Directive last week that aims to protect New Jersey's immigrant community, and also improve law enforcement interactions with migrant communities. Among many other important reforms, Grewal's directive prohibits NJ police from engaging in ICE raids. This directive is said to be a direct rebuke of recent national policies.


According to New Jersey Monthly, “Anxiety about potential deportation plagues both the state’s undocumented aliens and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a designation granted by the federal government to refugees from countries ravaged by ongoing conflict, natural disasters or other extraordinary dangers. The state’s 6,800 Salvadoran refugees and their children will learn in March whether their TPS status will be extended. The same fate awaits New Jersey’s 3,700 Honduran refugees and their children in July. The Trump administration recently set a July 2019 TPS deadline for some 3,400 who fled Haiti for the Garden State after a devastating earthquake in 2010.”


A key part of anti-immigrant/migrant/refugee rhetoric is that inviting new people into the country will drain resources.


However, New Jersey Monthly noted that “The Center for American Progress estimated that if these groups lose TPS status, the state will lose some $872 million annually thanks to diminished productivity… immigrant households paid $6.5 billion in state and local taxes (nearly $600 million of which was paid by undocumented immigrants). According to the American Immigration Council, New Jersey’s immigrants wield $54.6 billion in annual buying power.”


With legal immigration slowing and with undocumented immigration being attacked, “Some American businesses are clamoring for workers, and the slowing of legal immigration could further strain a job market in which a record 6.6 million positions are unfilled.


While the loss of immigrants and slower immigration proceedings cause loss in American business, migrants moving towards the southern border have been met with hurdle after hurdle.


There are 5,000 migrants in Tijuana, Mexico and many of them are looking to go through the San Ysidro entry point while seeking asylum in the United States. The entry point is only processing around 100 asylum petitions a day.


According to Irineo Mujica, a (border city) Pueblo Sin Fronteras aid worker, about two hundred migrants marched towards the Tijuana-California border crossing in effort to “make the migrants’ plight more visible to governments of Mexico and the U.S.”


The migrants encouraged each other to be peaceful, and many chanted “We are not criminals! We are international workers!” and held up hand-painted American and Honduran flags.


On November 25, United States border agents fired tear gas at migrants approaching the border fence. The Associated Press reported “Children were screaming and coughing in the mayhem. Fumes were carried by the wind toward people who were hundreds of feet away, not attempting to enter the U.S.”


A Reuters photo shows a mother grasping the arms of her two children, both in diapers, in order to flee the clouds of tear gas.


This image is not only mortifying, but it is evidence of an American tradition that has been used for years to silence those who are protesting against injustice. Whether it be thrown at protesters against police brutality, at Native American protestors of oil pipelines, or at children and families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, tear gas is a weapon that is not used to kill, but to oppress those who have the courage to push back against a failing system.


Tear gas, also known as CS gas, is a chemical weapon that is not even allowed in battlefield utilization. Tear gas was banned in U.S. combat in 1993. However, U.S. police and federal officials are allowed to use it in riot-control situations.


The refugees at the border were not rioting.


The issue of racism, the concept of ‘aliens’, and America’s seemingly everlasting tradition of keeping immigrants out is not new. Americans have a tendency to look the other way in the face of tragedy and violence, especially when it does not affect us directly. After seeing barefooted children experiencing CS gas, there have been many people who have said this is not our America.


But it is.


Even while walking the hallways of SBHS, people have said that “We can’t get angry at everything that happens in the world.”


In a world where self-interest prevails and the value of people’s lives are brushed aside in favor of AP Chemistry test scores and National Honor Society requirements, students have learned that the best way to deal with current events is to simply ignore them.


Yes, we can do assignments in Global Studies and in political classes all day, and even then, students care more about the grade they will receive on the assignment than the weight of the news.


When we, as the new generation, hold our own worth to a score and a letter grade, then we are doing a disservice not just to ourselves, but to those less fortunate than us all over the world. We owe it to our country and to those who are less privileged to educate ourselves, and most importantly, to give a damn.


In the real world, no one gets extra credit for doing good. All everyone has to do is be aware of reality instead of ignoring it.


Migrants being tear-gassed is just one example.


Yazidis being slaughtered in Iraq and Syria while the world sits by and does nothing is another.


Palestinian children being thrown in jail for throwing rocks at an apartheidist border is another.


Will we alleviate the pattern, or are we going to be just like the past and present generations? If we cannot do it in this generation, will we at least use our relatively uncensored voices to bring attention to people when they are not being heard?


And just in case anyone was wondering what people were doing on the other side of the border while families were being tear gassed: The Associated Press noted that merely yards away, shoppers went in and out of an outlet mall, completing the annual holiday tradition of Black Friday consumption.

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