Citizens Without Allegiance

By Dan Cadman on May 21, 2015

Visitors to this Center's website or to NumbersUSA or Breitbart or any number of other sites know that the issue of "birthright citizenship" — citizenship acquired at birth without regard to the immigration status of your parents — has been garnering a lot of attention in recent weeks, including a House of Representatives hearing on the matter. (See here, here, and here.)

The idea of according citizenship to just about anyone simply by virtue of the geographical happenstance of where they are born — with no consideration given to the citizenship or loyalties of your parents or where you will likely be raised and inculcated into a culture and way of thinking — is far from universal among the world's nations, and highly unusual among countries immigrants actually move to. Regular readers of CIS publications and blogs probably know that the subject has been examined from a number of different policy and demographic perspectives. (See, for instance, here and here.)

One of the most troubling, yet little remarked-upon, aspects of according citizenship to all individuals born in the United States of parents who owe no allegiance to, and quite possibly are illegally present in, the United States is that of national security.

Certainly we have already seen instances of individuals who are entitled to claim citizenship by accident of birth (and therefore to obtain American passports, the gold standard among travel documents globally) who in fact hate the United States and intend it, and its people, great harm. Anwar al Awlaki, the late-but-not-lamented al Qaeda terrorist and fomenter of hate and violence, is a prime example.

But it is short-sighted to think that, as serious an issue as it is, future terrorist supporters are the only potential national security problem that birthright citizenship engenders. Consider the problems of espionage and infiltration. Those of you who follow the television show "The Americans" are familiar with the premise: Two young Soviets are surreptitiously smuggled into the United States at the height of the Cold War after years of training to look, act, and sound like ordinary Americans. They are given identities stolen from the graves of dead children, and thus assume dual identities: a middle-class American couple by day; ruthless spies and murderers at night.

These days, it is far harder to steal identities in the way the show premises, due to a growing web of interconnected vital statistics systems recording (and reconciling) both births and deaths. So what does a foreign intelligence agency — say, the Russian Federal Security Service or the Chinese Ministry of State Security — do if it wants to infiltrate its agents into the fabric of American society? Well, why bother with fake identities? Why not just take advantage of youngsters who are the products of the thriving business of "birth tourism"? These children have the advantage of citizenship at birth even if they feel no particular allegiance to this foreign land. Can anyone doubt the willingness of these or other intelligence agencies to pressure the parents of such children, or to take an active role in their upbringing, to mold them to their particular needs?

And once such children return (or are sent back) to this country, because they are citizens they are entitled to apply for jobs throughout the federal bureaucracy, including work in sensitive areas of key interest to foreign governments, such as defense weapons programs.

Should we be so naive as to think that present vetting procedures would be adequate to reveal the surreptitious efforts behind these individuals? Even the most cursory examination of the dozens of cases where naturalized spies, traitors, and thieves of sensitive data have been discovered suggests otherwise. Why would it be different for children of birth tourists?

We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that casual beneficiaries of birthright citizenship — whose natural allegiances are almost certainly felt toward the nation where they were raised, and for the culture of their parents and forebears — would feel any compunction against spying on us. They might relish it.