The recent elections have been a cause of concern for me and many of those close to me. This apprehension is not specifically related to the question of who will steer our government for the next couple years, but rather the growing rhetoric in favor of repealing birthright citizenship. Even here at Yale, I have spoken to people with ethnic backgrounds similar to mine who are not opposed to limiting citizenship to those whose parents are also citizens. As such, I would like to present a frank and first-hand look at the issue.
I am bi-racial, and with that comes the luxury of having an American mother. I left Mexico under complicated circumstances as a child, and we arrived in the United States hoping we would soon return. The political climate of Mexico made it such that we could not, but unlike most people who flee their countries to escape violence, my brother and I did not have trouble obtaining paperwork to live in this country. I grew up in a Mexican household, but I went to school in an American society.
Compare my case to that of a friend of mine, whom I met while I was working as a translator at a legal office in Cambridge, Mass. She was born in Cambridge, but to El Salvadorean parents who fled their country in the 1980s during a period of civil war. She speaks broken Spanish, listens to American pop music and has never been to El Salvador. She considers herself American and wants to be a teacher. Her parents both work very hard, but they have trouble finding jobs because of their legal status. It means that work comes and goes with the seasons, and they sometimes work a few temporary jobs or nothing at all. They speak English at home, for their children, and have very limited contact with El Salvador themselves.
The repeal of birthright citizenship would mean that people like my friend could be deported to a country to which they feel no allegiance beyond a few romanticized stories shared by relatives. She does not speak the language, she has very little idea of how the government works or what rights she would have as a citizen of El Salvador, and she calls herself a proud American. She knows more about the American legal systems than most Americans do. She scored a 5 on the AP English Language exam and will continually work while she studies in order to help support her parents. She is someone who celebrates American culture and actively contributes to society. Is this not the kind of citizen that the United States honors and promotes?
I would not say that having an American mother made me any more American than this friend, and yet I am blessed with the security of legal status. We are shaped by the societies that we are exposed to, and more often than not that is where our allegiance lies. Loyal American citizens are born here every year to undocumented or immigrant parents, but they, too, embrace the culture of this country and stand willing to serve in our work force, our military, our schools and our communities. Political rhetoric that uses terms like “anchor babies” only serves to promote hatred of people who left their homes for reasons similar to my own. So yes, many do leave their homelands to provide their children with a better tomorrow, but many of these children will grow up with similar experiences to your own. I came to this country as a child, and despite the culture of my household, I have many things in common with the other people who grew up in my neighborhood. This is also true for my friend.
This country is the product of immigrants and we take pride in being a “melting pot” because it allows us to draw ideas from a more diverse and creative group of individuals. Getting rid of birthright citizenship would partially cut off the flow of ideas and people that make this country what it is. We have a nation that was made stronger by the flow of immigrants into this country in the 19th and 20th centuries because they gave back to this nation. I give back to this nation. So do my friends. Politicians call them “anchor babies” and “illegal aliens”; they call themselves Americans.
Diana Enriquez is a sophomore in Saybrook College.