There are many impressions about the immigrants who come to the U.S. to become American citizens, but what do hard numbers and historical data tell us?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports that in 2022, 967,500 immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens. Of those seeking asylum, 34,000 were included in the number of naturalized citizens in 2022.
Apparently, the U.S. does accept immigrants, but under what circumstances? Per the USCIS, immigrants must reside legally in the U.S. for five years to even become eligible for citizenship. For those becoming citizens, the median (typical) time from arrival to naturalization is 7.7 years.
The 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does cover immigration.
In keeping with Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, babies born in the U.S. are automatically U.S. citizens, regardless of their parents’ immigration status. It states: “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.”
Some people — for example, former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — oppose applying the concept of birthright citizenship to the children of people in the country illegally.
Their concern is that these children, sometimes referred to as “anchor babies,” would have the ability to petition for their parents, who are in the country without legal permission, to receive green cards and, ultimately, citizenship.
In a 2020 article, the British newspaper The Guardian observed that the “anchor baby” would have an unworkably long wait to be able to make such a petition: “In fact, a U.S. citizen must be 21 years old before they can sponsor their parents for a green card. They must also be able to financially support their parents.”
Steven C. Thal, a Minnetonka immigration lawyer, said it is not surprising that there are few instances of the “anchor baby” phenomenon.
In an article for the American Immigration Council, Wendy Feliz quotes Michele Waslin: “Far from affecting only illegal immigrants, birthright citizenship impacts everyone. If simply being born in the U.S. and having a U.S. birth certificate were not proof of citizenship, Americans would have to navigate complex laws to prove their citizenship. Other than a birth certificate, most Americans do not have government documents that establish U.S. citizenship.”
Before immigrants were restricted
The 14th Amendment does have a kind of seniority over efforts to restrict immigration.
James C. Ho, former solicitor general for the state of Texas, in his Immigration Policy Center article “Defining ‘American,’” notes that there is a key chronology in the discussion of citizenship. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Ho quotes from the case Kleindienst v. Mandel: “Until 1875 alien migration to the United States was unrestricted.” In other words, the 14th Amendment’s definition and protection of citizenship predate by several years the US formalized concept of illegal immigration.
Immigrants are productive
Babar Khan, an Eden Prairie Pakistani-American who is both an engineer and an immigration advocate, believes that many adverse U.S. opinions and laws about immigration are based in a wrongheaded view of immigrants as nothing but passive receivers of American largesse.
Khan does concede that immigrants may consume U.S. government-provided medical services but many times they are not government service users but rather contributors to the U.S. economy. Immigrants with jobs pay taxes and contribute to Social Security and Medicare. Thal notes that if they are undocumented, they cannot expect to benefit from the contributions they make.
Khan says that if an immigrant comes to the U.S. for an education, the immigrant is unable to qualify to receive an education grant and must pay top dollar for his education. An immigrant who starts a business contributes by employing our citizens. DACA children who have grown into adulthood now provide their talents and taxes to America.
Khan goes on to say that if immigrants are fleeing turmoil in their country of origin, it may ironically be the case that in international politics the U.S. is helping create that turmoil.
Khan finds it “inhuman” that our system breaks families apart. A man who is an immigrant may have to take eight years or longer to become a naturalized citizen. All that time he is separated from his spouse who is back in their old country. It may then be yet another four years before his spouse can join him as a naturalized U.S. citizen. Khan notes that there is a mental toll for these disturbed, divided families.
Thal observes that if a potential immigrant attempts to obtain a U.S. visa to come to America, there are quotas for visas and there are visa backlogs well beyond the quotas.
Thal says that immigrants provide to America a “spirit of wanting to have a fresh start in life and create something new.” They also give us a chance to see the U.S. “through other people’s eyes.”
Thal says public opinion polls bear out the fact that Americans are receptive to immigrants coming to America. Strikingly the city government of Eden Prairie has its very own Immigrant Services with a Somali-speaking person who helps immigrants with job applications, résumé writing, immigration problems, citizenship classes, and many other issues. This is not a federal or state or county office. It is a city-level organ.
America is open to admitting immigrants to citizenship. As is noted at the beginning of this article, last year nearly one million immigrants were made naturalized U.S. citizens. We must, however, acknowledge the role of the 14th Amendment, recognize the mental toll on immigrants of our current immigration system, and — yes — the very real contributions of immigrants.
- Steven C. Thal, P.A., immigration attorney: 10580 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 100, Minnetonka, MN 55305. Phone: 612-424-2942.
- City of Eden Prairie Immigrant Services: Mohamed Duale (Somali-speaking). Phone: 952-294-5946.
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): 250 S. Marquette Ave., Suite 710, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Phone: 800-375-5283 (automated).
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