Must-Read Op-Eds on Citizenship

Citizenship is a Responsibility, not a Birthright

By Helen Krieble

President’s Trump’s proposal to end “birthright citizenship” has highlighted a long-simmering dispute about the qualifications for American citizenship, and the responsibilities that go with it. He is right to lead a long-overdue national debate about whether everyone born in the U.S. is “automatically” a citizen.

As virtually all experts on both sides explain, the legal answer comes down to how we interpret the 14th Amendment. Commentators who support automatic citizenship at birth often cite what they call “the plain language” of the Amendment, but it does not plainly support their claim.

The 14th Amendment reads:

“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.”

In other words, there are two aspects to American citizenship: birth or naturalization in the U.S. and being subject to its jurisdiction. The “jurisdiction clause” has meaning – or there would have been no need to include it. The primary purpose of the 14th Amendment was to provide full citizenship to recently freed slaves. But the “jurisdiction clause” was included precisely because not all people born in the U.S. are subject to its jurisdiction. Many may also have loyalties elsewhere, and have not voluntarily pledged allegiance to our form of government.

Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, author of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause, made clear that the provision did not convey citizenship to “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, or who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lyman Trumbull agreed that it meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else and being subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.”

It is clear from the recorded debates at the time, Congress did not intend to convey automatic citizenship to the children of foreign nationals (“foreigners or aliens”). It made no distinctions about whether they came to the U.S. as workers, tourists, students, or in any other category. In today’s context, it makes no difference whether they came to the U.S. legally or not – documented or undocumented. Those details all miss the point of the jurisdiction clause.

The point of that clause was explained by Professor Edward Erler, author of The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration. It is the key concept of what the Declaration of Independence calls “the consent of the governed.” Citizenship must be offered by the society, and it must be voluntarily accepted by one who understands the duties it includes. His analysis of the 14th Amendment is not just clear legal scholarship – it is plain common sense.

This is the heart of America’s founding principles. Americans are all equal under the law, not classified because of where they are born. They are “citizens” whose government only gets “just powers” from the consent of the governed. Thus, new citizens must “consent” to be governed by this system. That’s why the law requires that they voluntarily pledge loyalty to our government, and understand our history, language, and institutions. But treating the children of foreigners as citizens creates a class of “Americans” who have never agreed to those terms.

Congress has exercised its authority to decide who is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States several times before, as with the Native American Tribes, to whom the 14th Amendment did not initially apply. That was because in 1868 (when the Amendment was ratified), they remained loyal to tribal nations, not the United States. It took three separate Acts of Congress between 1924 and 1940 to grant full citizenship to the Tribes – who had to accept it with a pledge of loyalty to the U.S. government, just as new citizens today must pledge.

President Trump believes Congress should also specify that children of illegal aliens are not “automatic” citizens. If Congress does not act, the President is considering acting by executive order, which would almost certainly give the Supreme Court another chance to clarify an 1898 ruling.

That 19th Century case is often cited as proof that the 14th Amendment made no exceptions, but it did not address the meaning of the “jurisdiction clause,” nor was the plaintiff in that case born to people who were in the U.S. illegally. Thus, it was written for a different era, and did not anticipate many aspects of today’s immigration issues. Indeed, it was written by the same court that had just upheld racial segregation, and its conclusions are ripe for a more modern analysis.

President Trump is right to raise the issue. We need a serious discussion, and a new understanding of the importance of citizenship. That requires a new Supreme Court decision – not a Constitutional Amendment.

This is not about race or national origin. While the children of foreign nationals should not be automatic “birthright” citizens, they certainly DO have the right to become citizens. Like anyone else in the world, they may apply, go through the prescribed process, and become citizens. But they must do so when they are old enough to responsibly pledge allegiance to the American form of government, and understand what makes it unique and revered around the world.

Is the American Experiment Dead?

By Helen E. Krieble | October 15, 2018

Last week’s op-ed by Stephen Dinan revealed that most Americans today could not pass the citizenship test. King George III would be so proud. He and his aristocratic friends laughed at America’s quaint “experiment” with self-government. To them it was unthinkable that common people were enlightened enough to rule themselves. That experiment is now the hope and dream of people throughout the world, but what about here in the U.S.?

Astonishingly, today’s Americans expect government to care for us from cradle to grave, the way commoners once expected a benevolent king to care for his subjects. We treat people as members of groups rather than as individuals, insidiously devolving into the very class system against which the founders rebelled. In a deeply disturbing sense, Americans are voluntarily surrendering the very freedoms that millions fought and died to establish and protect. James Garfield once said the most common form of death in politics is suicide. After a noble 225 year history, is the American experiment dying at the hands of its own people?

Many of the “long train of abuses” that led to our rebellion from the British Crown are eerily similar to our own government’s excesses. The Declaration of Independence listed grievances against the King that are all too familiar today. The authors accused the King of refusing “his assent to laws… necessary for the public good,” of forbidding locals to pass laws “of immediate and pressing importance,” even of dissolving local representative bodies. How different is that from today’s “supreme” federal system that routinely over-rides local and state laws, especially by federal court orders and “constitutional” rulings based on premises not in the Constitution? The Crown had “obstructed the administration of justice” by controlling judges’ tenure and salaries; today’s government does so by empowering judges to usurp legislative powers – to make up new laws rather than interpret laws passed by the people’s representatives. It is a more modern technique, but with the same anti-democratic result.

King George had “erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” In 2018 the federal government has more than 4 million employees and costs taxpayers over 4 trillion dollars a year. The King “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution,” much as modern leaders compromise our sovereignty to institutions like the UN, international courts, and foreign trade commissions.

The founders said government should protect private property, but today’s Supreme Court lets government take private property and sell to developers, take away the value of land by denying the right to use it, and force landowners to give their land for endangered species habitat, parks, trails, and “open space.” The first “inalienable right” in our Declaration was the right to life, but today’s courts prohibit states from protecting it. If we still believe “all men are created equal,” how can we justify racial preferences in school admission, government contracts and congressional re-apportionment? Freedom of speech is central to the Bill of Rights, but it is under attack by politically correct thought police at government-funded universities all across the nation.

“The policy of the federal government,” wrote President Jefferson, “is to leave her citizens free – neither aiding nor restraining them in their pursuits.” Today, we are not allowed to plan our own retirement, design our own health insurance, or even devise our own children’s education. The endless intrusion reaches every facet of our lives from where we can hike in the woods to how our hamburgers must be cooked. Both parties instinctively look to government as the first answer to all problems. Even Republicans propose solving issues like illegal immigration by hiring thousands more federal employees.

There is one crucial difference: unlike our colonial ancestors, contemporary Americans voluntarily agreed to all these usurpations with their votes. We have been warned frequently to be alert. In 1835 Tocqueville wrote, “the American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” Sadly, that day has long since arrived.

Americans have two clear choices. Do we really want to declare the America of our founders dead and accept a mediocre socialism it has devolved into? Or do we want to withdraw the “consent of the governed” and revive the American experiment that made us the freest people on earth and the envy of the world?”

Over protected and under challenged – our students have turned their backs on the Enlightenment

Daniel Hannan | September 15, 2018

It’s the suddenness that’s so shocking. Until around five years ago, no one had heard of “safe spaces”, “trigger warnings”, “cultural appropriations” or “micro-aggressions”. Now, university life seems to revolve around them. From one moment to the next, undergraduates became apparently incapable of dealing with challenging opinions.

Oxford’s law students are now given formal warnings before they read about gory crimes. Its English students are counselled before encountering literature that might upset them. Undergraduates are given a trigger warning, for example, when presented with Robert Lowell’s 1964 poem For the Union Dead because it contains the n-word. Never mind that Lowell, a committed civil rights campaigner, was writing a homage to the black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Context is irrelevant: feelings, or at least imagined feelings, now trump facts.

What is new is not Left-wing radicalism on campus, but the loudly proclaimed fragility of our students, their determination to take offence at the smallest thing, their demand that nothing should make them feel uncomfortable (a logic which they don’t extend, of course, to the targets of their protests).

Consider the recent agitation against the statue of Cecil Rhodes at my old Oxford college, Oriel. It is easy enough to imagine students abusing the diamond magnate in the Nineties or, indeed, in the Sixties. But those students would have been aggressive and domineering in their anti-colonialism.

The tone of today’s demonstrators is very different. It is introverted, injured, plaintive. Undergraduates complain that they “suffer violence” every time they walk past the little guano-encrusted statuette – which is set so high in its niche that they must be making quite an effort to look at the thing they’re determined to be wounded by.

What has changed? The answer is provided in a brilliant new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Haidt, a softly spoken psychology professor at New York University is, for my money, currently the most important social scientist in the world. His insights on how our opinions are rooted in our evolved intuitions have revolutionised our understanding of politics.

The elevation of passive-aggressive victimhood has spread with astonishing rapidity over the past three years from American campuses to those in Britain, Canada and Australia. Yet it remains largely unknown in Europe, let alone further afield. “Safetyism,” Haidt tells me, “is a uniquely Anglosphere problem”. In part, this is because ideas travel swiftly within a linguistic and cultural continuum; the French, by contrast, instinctively distrust American imports.

It also reflects, Haidt believes, the way top universities in the English-speaking world are modelled, ultimately, on Oxbridge. He stresses “top universities”. Safetyism is much rarer in technical colleges, especially those that are non-residential. You need to be removed from the amused reaction of your parents or work colleagues to be susceptible.

Formal education also starts earlier in the English-speaking democracies than in Europe and that, for Haidt, is part of the problem. “We’ve over-scheduled, over-protected and over-supervised our kids”, he says. They are less likely to walk or cycle to school. Playgrounds have been made risk-free. Social media encourage young people to think of opposed opinions, not as an intellectual test, but as a form of moral contamination.

This is far more worrying than “political correctness gone mad”. We are turning our backs on the central idea of the Enlightenment. Over the past four centuries, at least in the West, we have absorbed a set of precepts that do not come naturally. We have taught ourselves that someone can disagree with us without being wicked; that people whose ways seem strange might yet possess wisdom; that we don’t know everything, and that listening to new ideas broadens our understanding.

This last idea – the recognition of our ignorance – is the foundation of modern science. For thousands of years, our ancestors believed that all truth was contained somewhere, usually in a sacred book. Only very recently have we reached the view that letting different ideas jostle is the best way to improve our knowledge.

In 1644, John Milton advanced a revolutionary argument: “A man may be a heretic in the truth, and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.”

Milton would immediately have recognised what is happening in our leading universities. Certain ideas are sacralised, lifted out of the field of rational enquiry. Four hundred years ago, heresy meant challenging the teaching of the Church. Today, it means questioning the received dogmas on diversity and equality.

We are abandoning the empiricism and tolerance that underpin the Enlightenment, and returning to the older notion of judging an idea on the basis of whether the speaker is from our own tribe – though “tribe” is now defined by political and cultural affinities.

How can we pull out of the nosedive? In the long term, we should be readier to let our kids play unsupervised. Let them devise their own games, set their own rules, work out what to do if they gash a knee. In the shorter term, the leaders of our universities need to be prepared to defend free speech, in letter and in spirit. And in the immediate term? Well, reading Haidt and Lukianoff’s book would be a start.


By Helen Krieble | September 16, 2018

In my early studies of Latin, I remember reading the famous story about Pliny the Younger, who was appointed Roman Governor of an area that is now part of Turkey. When he took office in the year 111 A.D., he had to deal with the ongoing persecution of early Christians, an issue to which he had never been exposed.

He wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan asking for guidance. Pliny reported that because of the trials’ publicity, accusations had spread and rumors were rampant about who was and was not a Christian. “An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons,” he wrote, asking what to do with it.

Trajan’s response has been quoted for nearly 2000 years: “Anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”

Is the spirit of our American age so different? Or have we devolved back to a system of persecution based on anonymous rumors? Observers of today’s news might think so, especially watching the flap over publication by the nation’s largest newspaper, The New York Times, of an anonymous column supposedly written by a “senior administration official.”

The column claims that there is a growing “resistance” movement among Trump insiders, and makes several accusations about the president’s personality and leadership style.

Why would the author want to remain unknown? One popular website that helps people write anonymous letters says it can “help you find your voice and express yourself without fear of the repercussions associated with confronting the person yourself.” But how can that be squared with one of America’s founding principles, enshrined in the Bill of Rights — the right of accused persons to confront and question their accusers?

Anonymous letters cannot be used as evidence in court, because their source[s] cannot be verified by cross-examination. Just as unsigned charges cannot be admitted in court, so they should also not be admissible in the court of public opinion.

There is nothing particularly new or shocking about this writer’s accusations, all of which we hear on a daily basis from the president’s critics. What is shocking, however, is the low ethical standards of which this incident is symptomatic. Someone who apparently serves at the pleasure of the president, and therefore owes his/her livelihood to the sovereign American people for whom that president works, thinks his views are more important, valid, and correct. We are expected to take his word for that, without knowing where he got his information.

Remembering the 6th Amendment right of accused persons to question accusers, there is one key question diligent newspaper readers would ask the anonymous columnist: “How do you know?”

Without knowing who the writer is, what meetings he may have attended, what job he holds, who he reports to, or what documents he has access to, how can “we the people” possibly judge the veracity of his allegations?

What we do know is that whoever he is, he was not elected and represents nobody. Ours is a republic in which power resides in the people themselves, and policy is made by the people we elect. We authorize presidents to appoint various officials to help them faithfully execute the laws, but the president represents the will of the people. He governs by the consent of the governed. No subordinate official is authorized to judge his effectiveness or fitness for office — that power belongs only to “we the people.”

Americans may be forgetting that their founding principles included ethics, morality, and virtue. George Washington wrote that virtue was the very basis of self-government, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people,” he said. Benjamin Franklin was even more direct: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

Our system’s very foundation is the idea that ordinary people can govern themselves. That requires that be we well informed, so we can properly judge between right and wrong. Anonymous letters strike at the very heart of that fundamental truth.

In Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Possibility of Evil,” an old woman thinks she is helping rid her small town of evil by constantly writing anonymous letters. But it turns out that the letters, whose damaging accusations often prove false, cause irreversible turmoil. It is thus revealed that the anonymous writer herself is the real evil.

Reactions to the New York Times piece have been sadly predictable. Other newspapers made hay with a story that the Trump administration is imploding. TV news shows paint a picture of inside squabbling and dissent. Administration allies counter by demanding the Times disclose the author’s name, and many are calling for the resignation or firing of the culprit. Some even suggest that such anonymous columns are a threat to national security. They all miss the mark.

The important point about an anonymous editorial has less to do with the author, and more to do with our own reactions. We shouldn’t care who wrote it; we should ignore it. The fact that a particular newspaper decided to publish it speaks volumes about the editor’s ethics, but not about ours. We should simply react as Trajan did, insisting that no prosecution — legal or political — should be based on anything anonymous. It is “out of keeping with the spirit of our age.” Or it should be.

Be My Guest?

By Helen Krieble
When you have guests in your home, do you immediately add them to your family health plan, give them keys to drive your car, and put them in your will? The answer is “of course not,” because we all understand the difference between guests and family. Current issues involving illegal immigration, American citizenship, and even the dilemma of Syrian refugees, should be considered in the same light.

America has always been open to people around the world seeking freedom and the opportunity to build a better life. That’s why we have legal immigration, permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship for several million new Americans each year. We have also been open to foreigners who only seek work in the U.S., to earn money they can scarcely dream about in much of the world. That’s why we have work visas, and several thousand temporary workers who use money earned in this country to capitalize better lives for themselves and their families back home. In addition, Americans have often been willing to accept refugees fleeing genocide, slavery, and religious or political persecution abroad. Whether we are discussing temporary workers, permanent immigrants, or refugees from Syria – all part of the current campaign debates – we should remain vigilant in protecting the value of American citizenship. It is easy to understand why that matters for people seeking to become naturalized citizens of the United States. But to the extent that refugees may stay permanently, as most have done historically, they are likely to show up eventually in the citizenship line, too.

Here’s why that matters. America is not just a place, but an idea – the idea that ordinary people can govern themselves, rather than be subject to kings or dictators. Legally becoming an American citizen is a significant accomplishment requiring a complex process. An immigrant must live in the U.S. for five years,Helen and Minuteman Statue, Reserve Officers Assoc, 10.27speak English, learn about our history and government, be of good character and most important, renounce all other allegiances and promise loyalty to the United States and its Constitution – including a promise to defend the country if called upon. Citizenship is a very serious responsibility. Do we know that all the refugees the President wants to resettle in the U.S. are prepared to accept those responsibilities? He claims it is “un-American” not to admit these refugees, but is it un-American to allow people to come here who have no interest in supporting or defending our cherished founding principles?

Our nation’s founders realized a fundamental truth – democracy only works if people understand it. America only works if citizens understand its history and the important ideals upon which it is built. They must know that e pluribus unum, our national motto, means our strength comes not from diversity, but from unity – from our shared commitment to a form of government based on the responsible individual and on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is what makes our country exceptional and our people one. Only people who understand and explicitly agree to those principles should become American citizens.

Much of the debate about allowing refugees from dangerous places like Syria centers on whether we can be sure they are not future terrorists, certainly a legitimate concern. But there should be even more to the discussion, and so far no politician has asked the central question about the commitment of people we must assume are likely future American citizens. Is there any evidence that these people share our fundamental principles? Or will we eventually be offering citizenship – full voting privileges – to people merely because they are physically present in the U.S?

Citizenship should never be granted, or accepted, merely because someone happens to be here, no matter how they arrived. It should be conveyed carefully to people who understand its true meaning, and accept it with a hand over the heart, a lump in the throat, and a commitment to defend our unique American system.

This is the lens through which Americans should view all political issues – the lens of liberty. If we look through that lens, we can easily see that immigration to the U.S. cannot solve all the world’s difficult problems. That reality does not require that we sacrifice our compassion, or our commitment to be a beacon of freedom for the world. It does mean that before we make decisions on issues that could change the course of our nation’s history, we should carefully consider the two primary responsibilities of all citizens: to defend our freedom against all threats, and to pass it along to the next generation enhanced, and not diminished.

Helen Krieble is founder and president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, a noted authority on immigration policy and American citizenship.

You Have the Power – Are You Ready?

Helen Krieble

We live at a unique time in American history. Donald Trump in his inaugural address said, “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.” Speaker Paul Ryan says, “We want to reset the balance of power, so that people and the Constitution are rightfully restored.” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy adds, “We’ll continue to overturn excessive… regulations and return power to the people.” CPAC is dedicating its huge annual meeting to “We the People: Reclaiming America’s Promise.”

The emerging consensus among national leaders that we as responsible citizens should be in charge of our country is unique in my lifetime. It leads, however, to the critical question: are we as individuals ready and willing to rise to that challenge?

The American founders laid out our founding principles in the Declaration of Independence. It states that we have certain unalienable rights, that to secure these rights men have instituted governments, which derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. In other words, the sole responsibility of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, and as citizens we must give our consent to its actions for them to be legitimate. It has been by our inaction that we have consented to the erosion of our freedom.

Now, however, with a new call to give power back to the people, it is time for each of us to act. Many people find a distant federal government difficult to influence, but each of us can be a guardian for liberty in our local communities – attending town meetings, scrutinizing budgets to be sure tax dollars are spent correctly, looking at regulations and proposals to see if they impede our freedom, and letting our neighbors and friends know what we find. Working together in our towns, counties, and states, we as an army of engaged citizens can restore our freedoms and our ability to pursue our own happiness.

Our freedom is continually eroded in seemingly ordinary ways, even by our local governments. For example, I recently received a letter from my small town requiring me to make an appointment for the assessor to make a routine inspection in my home, to ensure my property tax was properly adjusted. I reminded them of the Bill of Rights and its protection against searches of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” without a search warrant from a judge, issued only with probably cause to suspect a crime. A little push-back from one citizen was all it took for the town to back down from an egregious affront to our liberty.

Informed citizens are taking similar action on behalf of freedom every day, but we need more such guardians all across America. The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation’s citizenship project, the “Lens of Liberty,” lays out the core meaning of citizenship, its responsibilities, and how to engage with our government. It explains how to look at every issue, proposal, or debate “through the Lens of Liberty.” Citizens should always ask whether a new idea – at any level of government – makes us more free, or less free. That’s why we have created freedom kits with several important tools to show responsible citizens how to do that. The kits are available at no cost at

It is heartening to hear national leaders recognize the importance of restoring our Constitutional framework, designed to ensure sovereign power remains with the people, not the government. Senators like Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner and others have campaigned successfully vowing to return power to the people. But voting, and electing new leaders, is only the first step. They can only give power to citizens who are ready to accept it, and exercise it responsibly to protect freedom.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich explains, “We loan power to the state, government does not loan it to the people.” But we cannot simply loan that power to the government, and then look away. Keeping a close watch is the central duty of citizenship.

From the beginning, Jefferson predicted the greatest threat to our experiment in self-government. He warned in 1821 that “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will… become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

That is why we the people must act. Responsible citizenship is the essential ingredient of freedom, because freedom does not start in the White House – it starts in your house.

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