Understanding the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Remember when the only memes from ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ were the meme’s lampooning the explanation of how a bill becomes a law. Many of us who grew up watching PBS understood the way that laws were supposed to come into being, through being a bill, then going through committee till finally they become a law through a vote in congress and a signature by the president. This process has become cloudy with the lobbyists, special interests and other groups who have manhandled our legislative system, and the ‘Bill on the Hill’ meme helps bring attention to these problems. Now we have another problem derived from the complexities of grade school, ideas so simple that even a congressperson should be able to figure them out – the function of a conjunction.
Media across the country is reporting that President Donald Trump is threatening to eliminate the ‘Citizenship Clause’ of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The question, however, is whether the president is threatening to cancel the clause, or simply read it as it is written. The debate comes down to the sentence in the first clause of the amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction therefore, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside…” specifically the word ‘and.’ This small three letter word has been overlooked by the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court for just over 150 years, the meaning of the word ‘and.’
All persons born or naturalized in the U.S., and subject to the jurisdiction therefore, are citizens of the U.S. and the State wherein they reside.‘Citizenship Clause’ of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Now I believe that we all know what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is, President Bill Clinton introduced us to the meaning of the word quite readily during the impeachment hearings of the 1990s. In the modern example, we are looking at the how the word ‘and’ functions in the first part of the first clause of the 14th Amendment. We can analyze this by breaking down the sentence into its structural parts. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…” is pretty simple, this is the pool of people who may or may not be subject to the law. The second clause of the sentence states “AND subject to the jurisdiction thereof…” This is the part where we are seeing confusion among the denizens of Washington D.C. Both parties seem to want to argue over what the meaning of the statement should be and ignore the meaning as it is written.
Breaking Down the Citizenship Clause
The simplified clauses of the Amendment are as follows, “All persons born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction therefore, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside…” and “All citizens nationalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction therefore, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside.” In both of these sentences the ‘and’ is quite important. Since we are not arguing the second clause, we are simply going to look at the first clause. This means that a person must be born in the United States and be subject to its jurisdiction. Since the person being born (which creates some odd condition around abortion claims since the person being born is the active person in the 14th Amendment) must be under the jurisdiction of the United States, then the citizenship does not come into play. Since the historical interpretation of the law, the child is subject to the parents who are under the jurisdiction of their home country until they have legal status, the child is not under the jurisdiction of the United States. Remember, Elian Gonzalez? The Clinton Administration sent in armed guards because he was under the jurisdiction of the Cuban government because of his father’s residence in Cuba. In this case, it is the same thing. Unless the parents have legal status in the United States, history suggests that we should defer to the nation of which the parents are citizens.
As if executive history was not enough, there is also the notes of the person who wrote the Amendment into law. Senator Jacob Howard stated in regards to the amendment, “This will not, of course, include person born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of [a]mbassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include very other class of persons. It settles the great question of the citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States.” The debate in Congress specifically denotes that foreigners (which would include those give asylum or refugees) and aliens (persons who cross the borders illegally) are not covered by the Amendment. Further, this would also mean that those who are doing ‘birth tourism’ are not legally creating new U.S. citizens, just that they are giving birth in better more expensive hospitals.
President Trump’s Constitutional Role
“Conjunction junction what’s your function,” is simply to connect two clauses in a sentence with an understanding that both parts of a test need to be met in order for a status to be given. In the case of the caravans, the birth touristers and those who give birth inside this country who are not citizens or member of a Native American community there is a clear and stated representation that they are not citizens. Further, the Constitution of the United States specifically states that the president of the United States is entrusted to enforce, not interpret the immigration laws of the United States. In this regard, whether you love him or hate him, President Donald Trump is enforcing the Constitution as it is written in the 14th Amendment.
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