Argument

Anchor Baby Boom

The fuss over birthright citizenship has been around as long as the 14th Amendment has -- and it's not going away anytime soon.

Hours after a federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona's hard-line immigration law on July 28, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham had an idea. That evening, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, announced that he was thinking of introducing a bill to change the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to the children of immigrants born in the United States.

 

"People come here to have babies," he told Fox News. "They come here to drop a child. It's called 'drop and leave.' To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child's automatically an American citizen. That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons."

On a night that otherwise might have disappointed anti-immigration conservatives, Graham's comments immediately shifted the focus of the heated debate from Arizona's law, which required police to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants, to "anchor babies" -- an alleged plot by immigrants to score citizenship and a place in the U.S. welfare state, first for their children and eventually for themselves. A handful of Graham's Republican colleagues have agreed that the issue warrants further investigation, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pressing for congressional hearings on what he described as the "burgeoning" business of birth tourism, and House Minority Leader John Boehner arguing Aug.8 on Meet the Press that it's "worth considering" repealing the 14th Amendment.

McConnell pointed to a Washington Post story about brokers who arranged for Chinese women to bear children at specialty "baby care centers" in the United States -- charging more than $14,000 for tourists to give birth in the U.S. so their children would be citizens. But there is scant evidence that there are elaborate schemes to exploit this loophole outside of a small handful of rich Chinese couples. And it's even less clear that illegal immigrants have deliberately decided to take advantage of the law en masse. About 4 million children in the United States have at least one parent who entered illegally, according to the Pew Hispanic Center: not an insignificant number, but still a very small fraction of the U.S. population, which is about 310 million.

Although Graham's ploy amounts to little more than high-voltage political theater, the Republican remarks reignited conservative scaremongering that illegal immigrants -- and even would-be terrorists -- were using the amendment to exploit the immigration system. The attacks tap into emotionally charged themes that have shaped the American immigration debate for decades -- and evoke the immigration battles of the 19th century, when the 14th Amendment was adopted.

As its opponents frequently point out, the U.S. version of birthright citizenship is unusually inclusive. Over the past few decades, Australia, Britain, France, and other industrialized countries have modified and restricted their own birthright laws in the face of similar concerns about immigration and the capacity of the modern welfare state. But supporters of U.S. birthright citizenship defend the provision as uniquely American. They recall the historical origins of the 14th Amendment, adopted during Reconstruction after the Civil War by Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party to protect the children of freed slaves.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne cites an impassioned 1859 defense of birthright citizenship by Carl Schurz, a German immigrant and Republican legislator. Birthright opponents denounced the law for naturalizing the country's "entire colored population," warning that a scourge of "Gipsies" would imperil the nation. Rushing to defend the law, Schurz declared: "All the social and national elements of the civilized world are represented in the new land ... their peculiar characteristics are to be blended together by the all-assimilating power of freedom. This is the origin of the American nationality, which did not spring from one family, one tribe, one country, but incorporates the vigorous elements of all civilized nations on Earth."

 

Modern immigration advocates argue that America's melting-pot inclusiveness has been the basis of the country's success -- and that expanding legal citizenship is likewise crucial to future progress. "Successful integration has always been a multigenerational process.... Kids learn English and have better educational outcomes, all in the course of a generation," says Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. "To treat those children differently and to make them second-tier residents isn't likely to reduce unauthorized immigration -- it's likely to lead to further polarization, inequality, and exploitation."

The argument for birthright citizenship reflects the larger argument for expanding the pathway to legal citizenship: It provides a quicker route for immigrants to become full tax-paying members of society, improving social cohesion, educational advancement, and productivity. A landmark 1997 study by the National Research Council showed that while immigrants without a high school education had a net negative fiscal impact -- consuming $16,000 more in services than taxes, at the time of the study -- highly skilled immigrants had an exponentially higher fiscal impact, contributing $198,000 more in taxes than services. Because of this, and other arguments that the legal status of immigrant parents should not affect U.S.-born children's citizenship, the few times that the policy has been challenged in the Supreme Court, it has been upheld.

Nonetheless, the attacks on birthright citizenship have refused to die. During the 1960s and 1970s, the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, retired ophthalmologist John Tanton, played on fears of American declinism and dwindling resources by fixating on overpopulation. "To govern is to populate," wrote Tanton in 1986. "Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?... As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night?"

Driven by a preoccupation with immigrant fecundity, Tanton laid the groundwork for groups that are now at the heart of the anti-immigration movement -- and whose views and rhetoric have gradually trickled into the mainstream. Although the legislation has generally remained on the fringes of the debate, at least one bill addressing birthright citizenship has been proposed almost every year in Congress since the early 1990s. Michele Waslin, senior research analyst at the Immigration Policy Council, a pro-immigration group, notes that one congressional hearing on the issue was held in 1995, shortly after California voters passed a ballot initiative to prevent illegal immigrants from availing themselves of public education, health care, and other social services. (A federal court ultimately struck down the measure, known as Proposition 187.) "It's the same argument -- about how much all these kids cost to educate and provide health insurance," says Waslin.

The same fears -- that immigrants are exploiting the U.S. welfare state, overpopulating the country, and taking away opportunities -- drive the current debate, amplified by a sluggish economy and a hyperpartisan and polarized political climate. Washington has spent more than two decades trying to reform the country's outdated immigration laws in light of changing demographics and rapidly globalizing economy, most recently in 2007, when George W. Bush's administration tried to pass an overhaul. At the time, a group of Republicans had cast themselves as pro-immigrant reformers, citing findings like the 1997 National Research Council study, which showed that U.S. immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- paid an average of $80,000 more in taxes than they consumed in public services in the long term. They even argued that higher fertility levels among immigrants would actually bolster the country's economy by making the labor force younger and healthier.

  

Threatened by such heresy from within the GOP, anti-immigration activists hauled out hot-button issues like "birthright citizenship" to fan the flames of the conservative opposition during the Bush years, successfully using such tactics to defeat Bush's immigration plan and push pro-immigrant Republicans like Senators John McCain and Graham further to the right. Conservative flamethrower Tom Tancredo, then a Republican congressman from Colorado, introduced his version of the "anchor babies" bill in 2007, though like all its predecessors it was a political act rather than a legislative one. The topic is "like a code word -- it activates this whole bundle of issues about immigrants gaming the system and so on," says Rosenblum. "It's very strategic and calculated."

It also glosses over some seriously complex issues. The hard fact is that the U.S. economy has changed since the 19th century, when explosive industrial growth required a constant incoming migrant workforce. There's overwhelming evidence that though encouraging immigration improves a country's economic productivity and average income in the long term, the immediate impact is more variable. In a recent study, economist Giovanni Peri shows that, during times of economic recession, immigration has a negative impact on native employment and average income rates in the short-term -- largely because the legal immigration system isn't flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the labor market. Of course, unchecked immigration and naturalization rates aren't solely responsible for the feeble state of the modern U.S. economy. Still, any new policy on both legal and illegal immigration must fit the fluctuating, modern-day needs of the economy and labor market, rather than simply responding to the hopes or fears of the American psyche.

The American public knows this: The majority supports an immigration overhaul that includes both a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants and worker-visa reforms. The problem is that congressional leaders, cowed by the explosive politics surrounding the issues and recalcitrant lawmakers (including middle-of-the-road Blue Dog Democrats as well as Republicans), insist a comprehensive bill would be impossible to pass in the near future. If legislators ever took up the issue in seriousness, there might even be a place for reconsidering birthright citizenship on its socioeconomic merits. Countries such as New Zealand and Britain have modified their birthright citizenship laws to require that one parent is a citizen or a legal permanent resident, for instance. But as long as the discourse amounts to describing immigrant women giving birth in terms that recall farm animals -- "dropping a child" as a horse might "drop" a foal -- the movement seems doomed to irrelevance. If Lindsey Graham truly wants to change the 14th amendment, in other words, he'd be best off keeping his bright ideas to himself -- at least for now.

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Argument

The Iraqi Who Knew Too Much

Why is Saddam's oil minister still in prison?

In yet another sign that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is coming to an end, the last U.S. military prison in the country, Camp Cropper, was transferred in July to the control of the Iraqi government, which took custody of hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, and former Baathist officials -- some of whom were complicit in the crimes perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's regime.

But there was also a detainee with a rather different pedigree: Saddam's former oil minister, Amer Mohammed Rasheed al-Obeidi. His continued detention represents a sign of a different sort -- the continued corruption and politicization of the new Iraqi government's judicial system.

Rasheed, now 70 years old, was detained by U.S. forces in April 2003. He was immortalized as the six of spades on the deck of playing cards that the U.S. military produced as its blacklist of the most-wanted regime members following the invasion, due to his role in Iraq's program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the 1980s.

However, the reason that Rasheed continues to rot in jail has nothing to do with WMD: His former position as oil minister made him privy to information regarding corruption among the current characters vying for power in the new Iraq -- as well as among some very senior Russian officials.

I directed the final investigation of Iraq's WMD program as the head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group in 2004. In my final report, I included an annex emphatically stating that there was no longer any purpose in detaining those Iraqis who had been captured due to their connection to these programs. We had our answers, and these individuals presented no further risk to Iraqi society -- indeed, many were extremely talented and could contribute to Iraq's reconstruction.

So why is Rasheed still lingering in jail, five years later? The answer has much to do with the struggle between Iraq's many centers of power after Saddam's fall. Authority over detainees on the U.S. blacklist passed to the Iraqi government in June 2004, when the United States officially transferred sovereignty. However, the prisoners remained at Camp Cropper under the control of the U.S. military. Saddam himself was Camp Cropper's most prominent resident until he was delivered to Iraqi hands to be hanged in December 2006.

The nascent Iraqi "justice system" that was developing in 2005 laid the foundation for Rasheed's continued detention. A court issued a warrant accusing him of "wasting the national wealth through his position that led to the loss of a great amount of money and Iraqi national wealth." He has been waiting in jail without action ever since.

In fact, Rasheed was one of the more careful Iraqi bureaucrats when it came to accounting for resources. When we debriefed Rasheed and other former Oil Ministry officials, it became clear that the normal operations of the ministry -- directed by Rasheed -- were conducted appropriately. It was when the inner circle of Saddam's coterie got involved that oil contracts were allocated to the benefit of those who bent to Saddam's will.

My own experience with Rasheed dates back to the early 1990s, when I served as the deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM, the U.N. weapons-inspection team established to verify that Saddam had destroyed his old stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and halted production of more advanced WMDs. Rasheed was one of the top technocrats Saddam assigned to deal with the U.N. inspectors. A former general in the Iraqi Army, Rasheed was a brilliant -- if sometimes loud and difficult -- technical program manager for some of Iraq's most advanced military-development efforts.

His talent was recognized by the regime, and he was rapidly given greater responsibilities. He was particularly proud of the construction of the so-called 14th of July Bridge over the Tigris River, which was quickly constructed to replace the crossings that were destroyed during the Gulf War.

In 1995, Saddam appointed Rasheed oil minister, a position he held for virtually the rest of the regime's existence, including during the critical period when the United Nations permitted Iraq to export under the so-called Oil-for-Food program.

Saddam wanted out of sanctions one way or another -- either by convincing the U.N. Security Council to lift them, which would require a judgment that Iraq had fully disarmed, or by undermining their effectiveness through illicit means, eventually causing them to collapse. It was this latter course that had made the most headway before the 2003 invasion, and its success was the result of carefully dispensed allocations of oil to those who could influence the sanctions on Iraq.

In my 2004 report, I published the full list of recipients, which included many very senior French and Russian officials -- including individuals in the office of the Russian president and the Russian Foreign Ministry, which executed allocations of 43 million barrels of oil. Among those involved was even the son of the Russian ambassador to Iraq. It is worth noting that the Russian ambassador to the U.N. through this period was Sergei Lavrov, the current Russian foreign minister and arguably the sharpest ambassador on the Security Council at the time. French recipients included a former ambassador to the United Nations. Both countries, but especially Russia, were strong advocates for loosening the controls on Saddam's regime. Saddam was nothing if not brilliant in dispensing rewards or punishments to ensure his survival.

After several years of U.N. inspection activity and innumerable sessions with Rasheed, I came to appreciate that he was often very candid, almost in spite of himself. During an inspection of one of Saddam's palaces in 1998, presidential secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti arbitrarily declared certain areas to be outside the designated site. Upon learning this, the brighter and more rigorous Rasheed shouted in frustration that Abid couldn't even read a map, so how would he know? Although Rasheed had a good point, it was not a wise thing to say about the man who was arguably the second-most powerful in Iraq.

Rasheed did a very good job representing Iraq's case to extremely skeptical U.N. experts. Ultimately we found there was much truth in what he was presenting. For years, Rasheed told U.N. inspectors that active work on any WMD program ended in November 1991. This turned out to be true, though the Iraqi government still publicly dissembled for years about the extent of its programs.

Following the U.S. invasion, I met with Rasheed again under very different circumstances. He had fallen a long way, from being oil minister of one of the world's largest oil-producing countries to a detainee whose only possession was his prison jumpsuit. Unlike many other senior members of Saddam's regime, Rasheed did not appear to have stashed wealth outside the country during his tenure as oil minister. In fact he had lived relatively modestly in Baghdad.

In these circumstances Rasheed could speak still more candidly. In our attempt to understand the extent of the regime's WMD programs, my team investigated all the revenues from both Saddam's U.N.-approved and illegal oil exports. In addition to examining the Oil Ministry's well-preserved documents, we discussed these transactions with all top regime officials, including Rasheed. I met with Rasheed shortly after he was detained, and he was very candid from the start.

Our final report, as well as the subsequent U.N. investigation of corruption within the Oil-for-Food program, documented Saddam's carefully calculated dispersal of valuable oil vouchers to leaders in a position to help his regime. Senior-level prosecutions have taken place in Australia, France, India, the United States, and elsewhere. Remarkably, none has taken place in Russia, where the list of oil allocations reached to the highest levels of government.

However, the U.N. did not examine the payoffs and profits by Saddam's regime to Iraqis -- most notably the leaders in Iraq's northern Kurdish areas, through which much oil passed during the 1990s to Turkey and Iran. Oil smuggling was a regular source of revenue for the Kurds and their leaders, according to former senior Saddam officials. In my report, I noted that one of the major purchasers of the Iraqi oil contracts was the Asia Company, which bought almost 11 million barrels of oil for $174 million from May 1999 to January 2003. Rasheed indicated that Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, controlled the company.

As oil minister, Rasheed implemented these deals, but the decisions were made by Saddam or one of the four key lieutenants known as "the Quartet": Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Ali Hassan al-Majid, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Tariq Aziz. Sometimes, Saddam's notorious son Uday also weighed in.

This has put Rasheed in the most precarious of positions: He has intimate knowledge of who was involved in the corruption related to Iraq's oil exports -- both internally and externally.

Rasheed, in short, knows who among Iraq's current leaders benefited under Saddam's regime. He also knows which senior leaders in various capitals -- such as Moscow -- were paid. Such leaders presumably want to continue to enjoy Iraqi markets. Rasheed has been sitting in jail for seven years without any due process. It would appear he is guilty of being a witness and the current regime in Iraq does not want to hear his testimony.

Iraq's new leaders have spoken constantly about making a dramatic break with the repression that characterized the Saddam era -- despite presiding over a country that Transparency International recently ranked the fourth-most corrupt country on the planet, tied with Sudan. Detaining Rasheed indefinitely, under the rationale of some murky investigation into the waste of resources, is one of many examples of how the current regime has failed to live up to its promises. If Iraq's new democratic government is going to distinguish itself from previous governments, it could begin by setting Rasheed free.

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