MANY AMERICANS DREAM about winning the lottery. Some of them so much so that they are willing to buy lottery tickets to try to do it – which indicates that they are not all that smart and apparently are unaware that they have already won – and won big. How do I know that when they apparently don't? Well, I've traveled a tad and I can tell you that the least people in America live far above most of the rest of the world.
So what do we Americans do with our valuable citizenship? We give it away through birthright citizenship – even those who act illegally to obtain it.
Since the adoption of the fourteenth amendment to the constitution in 1868, the citizenship has been controlled by its citizenship clause, which states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United State." So, being born in America, this clause is interpreted as saying, makes you by birthright a U.S. citizen.
This passage is so broadly construed that even babies born on planes flying over the U.S. or its territories acquire U.S. citizenship – regardless of the plane's country of origin.
But the phenomenon is bigger than even that suggests as these children can then become so-called "anchor babies" when they reach legal majority and may then sponsor their parents who came here illegally to gain legal permanent residency, then citizenship.
So, what's this citizenship we give away worth? What birth tourists – foreign women who travel to America to give birth and leave with their American babies – are willing to pay may give one hint.
The Chinese-language website USANYBABY.com offers a service facilitating pregnant Chinese women in coming to the U.S. to give birth by arranging lodging and hospital stays, and helping the birth tourists apply for birth certificates and then U.S. passports for their American babies.
While customs agents do have discretion to turn away very pregnant women, pregnancy is not an immediate reason to deny someone a visa to visit or work in the country. Still, to minimize such problems, at the center promoted by USANYBABY.com most women spend at least four months – three before delivery and one after. The total cost of American citizenship per baby comes in at $21,000 to $36,000.
Another birth-tourist program, catering to affluent Turks, offers a birthing package that runs about $45,000. Both programs are, as we will see, a real steal of a deal.
Several countries sell a lesser commodity, permanent residency status, to foreigners, though they usually package it as something less crass. Canada, for example, offers permanent residence to "foreign investors," requiring applicants to illustrate they have a net worth of at least $1.68 million and to make an active investment in Canada of at least $840,000 (at current exchange rates). Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand have similar programs.
What you might not know is the U.S. also has a parallel program, the EB-5 visa, where foreign individuals must actively invest at least $500,000 (one million dollars if not in a "targeted" area), creating at least 10 jobs. (The EB-5 is clear proof that the U.S. is less elitist than these other countries, as it has no net worth requirement, not caring whether these investors are rich or not – as long as they have lots of money.)
Another way to estimate the value of permanent residency is expected-lifetime-earnings differential. In the United States the average resident has a per capita annual income of $47,200. In Mexico the average resident has an income of $13,900. (Note that the average Canadian resident has an income $39,400 – which three numbers explain, in part, why we have big immigration influx from our south and not much of one from our north.)
This large income difference implies a much larger difference over an adult lifetime of say 50 years and a great enticement for a young Mexican to cross illegally into the U.S. For example, a Mexican making an average income in Mexico, who then made an average U.S. income in the U.S., would make $1.65 million more during his life.
Given a huge number such as this, you would expect that like illegal immigration in general, birthright citizenship might also be a frequent occurrence. Well, it is. In 2008, it is estimated, four million children became U.S. citizens after being born to immigrant parents on U.S. soil illegally. (Birth-tourist babies would not be included in this number.)
If we wish to get control of our immigration process, we might want to end birthright citizenship for tourists and immigrants here illegally – like Britain did in 1983 – because as long as we are giving away winning lottery tickets to every one who sneaks in, we will never get immigration under control.
And while I am sympathetic to immigrants here illegally, and the children they may have brought with them, the DREAM Act, which would legalize children brought here illegally, would only make things worse by giving more incentive for others to do likewise, an incentive we cannot afford.
Gary D. Gaddy briefly considered taking his pregnant wife to England in 1977 so his son could have dual citizenship.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday August 12, 2011.Copyright 2011 Gary D. Gaddy