Birthright citizenship

United States president Donald Trump has recently stated that he wants to revoke the constitutional provision of birthright citizenship (Axios), a legal standing that grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, even if their parents are not legal citizens or residents.  He plans to do this by executive order, or, failing that, by way of the Supreme Court (Vox).

Some argue that neither option is legally possible (Intelligencer).  Others argue that, not only might such a revocation be legal, but that it would comport with constitutional intent, national security interests, and international standards (relatively few (about 30) countries offer birthright citizenship (USA Today, Newsweek)).  One practice that ending birthright citizenship might curb is “birth tourism,” in which pregnant women travel to the U.S. solely for the purpose of gaining citizenship for their newborns (USA Today).

The provision for birthright citizenship is based upon the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment begins as follows:

“1: 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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its  jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Trump claims that birthright citizenship is not guaranteed by the constitution (Reuters).  Others claim that it is (Time).  While the above clause seems clear enough at first read, there has actually been much debate around the meaning of the term “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (CNN, USA Today).  In fact, ambiguity around the meaning and intent of the fourteenth amendment has engendered many congressional discussions and debates (1, 2, 3, 4)

According to legislative attorney Margaret Mikyung Lee (5),

Citizenship by birth in the United States was not defined in the original Constitution or in the early federal statutes.  The states and courts in the United States apparently adopted the jus soli doctrine followed by traditional English common-law, under which persons born within the dominions of and with allegiance to the English sovereign are subjects of the sovereign regardless of the alienage status of their parents.

Prominent legal precedents that have influenced how courts interpret the fourteenth amendment have included Elk v. Wilkins and United States v. Wong Kim Ark.  Still, many issues of U.S. citizenship remain unresolved.  For example, what is the status of children born to U.S. citizens on foreign soil?  The answer is not always clear (6).

It’s also unclear how intent the president is on carrying though with this Constitutional amendment amendment (or whether an amendment would be required to remove the birthright citizenship provision).  It may well be that bringing the issue up at all is simply meant to rally his base.  Irrespective of any constitutional changes, raising any immigration-related issue ahead of the mid-term elections (AP) provides yet another point of political division (Politico), a strategy that has consistently served Trump better than most analysts predicted.



Today, the most prominent Trump-inspired domestic terror suspect to date was arrested in connection with a series of bombs sent to prominent targets of the president of the United States’ vitriol (Fox News, NYT, The State, New York Post, New York Post, Daily Beast, Reuters, The Hill, Independent, USA Today, The New Yorker, CBS).  It is noteworthy that all of these enemies of the president live within the United States.  The president (NBC) and others (Washington Examiner) have been quick to paint the president himself as the real victim of this terrorism.   Trump has also tried to distance himself (and his rhetoric) from the suspect, ardent Trump supporter Cesar Altieri Sayoc, claiming, “I heard he was a person that preferred me over others but I did not see that.” (CBS)  A former attorney for Sayoc has described him as intellectually limited, noting,

“I believe he has issues comprehending concepts.  He is like a little boy in a man’s body.”  (NPR)

It seems he found a hero that he could truly relate to.

cesar sayoc


Migrant caravan

There is a “migrant caravan” of over 7,000 people walking north from Honduras, a South American country racked by poverty and violence, toward the United States.  In response, the president of the United States has declared this event a “National Emergy,” and has directed the U.S. border patrol and military to change laws (twitter).  A few days ago, a second caravan left Honduras, presumably following the path of the first (Mexico News Daily).

Some point to Bartolo Fuentes, a popular migrant advocate, as the organizer of the caravan (USA Today, The Daily Beast), but he denies this.  It seems that once a critical mass began the exodus, many decided to join.  They are fleeing hunger and violence (USA Today).  According to one of the travelers:

“My daughter had to flee so she wouldn’t be killed. By chance, she witnessed the execution of a man by gunfire, she was also shot and I’m afraid that those people will kill us.”  (Mexico News Daily)

Given the upcoming U.S. election, many fake news claims have been bandied about, ranging from the sinister (terrorist are lurking among the throngs) to the silly (Democrats/liberals/George Soros are funding the venture) (BBC, Fox News, Politico).  Denis Omar Contreras, a spokesman for Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), disputes such claims.

“There isn’t a single terrorist here.  We are all people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.” (Mexico News Daily)

But, why come as a large group?  Reporters point to two reasons.  The minor reason is that it makes a political statement.  But, the major reason is for safety.  Not only are the migrants fleeing violence, they are traveling through it.  According to The Guardian, eighty percent of the females who cross Mexico to get to America are raped on the way.

What is likely to become of the people that make up this caravan?  Some U.S. senators have proposed that Mexico take them in (Fox News, document).  Mexico seems to already be pulling its weight as a migrant buffer, though.  According to The New Republic, “since 2014, the United States has spent nearly $200 million expanding a deportation regime in Mexico that has expelled over 600,000 migrants, mostly to the Northern Triangle countries—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.”  Those who reach the U.S. border are not home free.  Currently, the U.S. border patrol arrests about 400,000 migrants every year.  Twenty years ago (in a better economy), the rate was over double that amount (Politico).  While those who make it to the U.S. border must, by law, be granted an opportunity to seek asylum (San Francisco Chronicle), typically only about one out of every four asylum seekers from Honduras might hope to be allowed to stay (Voice of San Diego, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse).  Still, those odds may be worth the walking lotto these folks are playing.

denied asylum

Carlos Leonidas Garcia Urbina left Honduras with just $20 in his pocket.  But, he’s optimistic.  “We are going to the promised land,” he says (TPM).



Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared over two weeks ago, at around 1pm on October second, inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey (Wikipedia).  Although Saudi Arabia denies any involvement in the matter (Daily Beast), the available evidence suggests that he was tortured and killed ( by a team of 15 Saudis dispatched by Saudi prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS).  The assassination team (AP), many with very close ties to MbS (Daily Sabah) allegedly included:

  • Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb
  • Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy
  • Abdulaziz Mohammed Al-Hasawi
  • Thaer Ghaleb Al-Harbi
  • Mohammed Saad Al-Zahrani
  • Meshal Saad Al-Bostani
  • Naif Hassan Al-Arefe
  • Mustafa Mohammed Al-Madani
  • Mansur Uthman Abahussein
  • Waleed Abdullah Al-Shehri
  • Turki Musharraf Al-Shehri
  • Fahad Shabib Al-Balawi
  • Saif Saad Al-Qahtani
  • Khalid Aedh Al-Taibi
  • Badir Lafi Al-Otaibi

According to the Daily Sabah, they look like this:

khashoggi hit team

This incident would be interesting enough if it were ‘only’ a political assassination of a journalist critical of the Saudi regime (although that sort of thing is fairly common in Saudi Arabia these days).  But several aspects of this assassination make it particularly noteworthy.  While known as a ‘progressive, dissident’ journalist (The New Yorker), Khashoggi was actually a major political player (Wikipedia), and one that could have presented an actual challenge to MbS (The Spectator, Voltaire Network), so the boldness of his assassination is significant.  Because of this boldness, world attention is now focused on MbS and Saudi Arabia (NYT, Time).  This negative attention has put the president of the United States, both personally and politically, in a very difficult position (AP, NYT, NYT, Vanity Fair, Observer).  It’s not that people like Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, or Mohammad bin Salman make him squeamish.  The problem is that Trump really wants to keep selling MbS fancy, expensive weapons.

He seems to me like the kind of guy it’s best to keep weapons away from.


Brett Kavanaugh

Today, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the sixth sitting Republican U.S. supreme court justice and the second to be confirmed amidst allegations of sexual misconduct.  The reactions from the right and from the left are as one would expect (gloating and disillusionment, respectively).  The sorrow expressed by those on the left seems tied almost entirely to the notion that the powerful can get away with whatever they want, and the rejoicing on the right seems tied, oddly enough, almost entirely to the very same notion.

Many people opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination because he advocates ideologies that are incompatible with their own ideals.  That’s to be expected of any nominee.  But, I think, Kavanaugh’s nomination will be remembered most for its effect on the few (seeming) swing-vote senators who agreed with Kavanaugh’s political positions, but found his character so contemptible that they struggled to justify advancing him to confirmation.  What interests me, then, is how Kavanaugh might have appeared less contemptible than he did.  How could he have responded to the accusations of his teenage sexual assault if he had been a good person and a worthy candidate?  Since we can not be sure if he is guilty (though, I imagine, few people remain without opinion on the matter), I think the answer to this speculation would require three different scenarios.

In the first scanario, suppose Kavanaugh is innocent.  How should he have responded?  Calmly.  He could have sympathized with his accuser and then simply pointed out that he didn’t do it (he got that second part right) and left it at that.  Done.

Second scenario, suppose Kavanaugh might be innocent.  He drank a lot in school and might have gotten rowdy when he drank.  Maybe he liked to fight and make unwanted passes at girls when he was drunk.  He may have assaulted Ford and forgotten, either because he did that sort of thing a lot and so that instance wouldn’t have stood out or because he blacked out after the incident, or both.  In any event, he may simply not remember the incident.  He may even honestly believe he didn’t assault Ford.  How should he have responded?  By acknowledging that he acted badly in his youth.  He did some bad things then.  He’s sorry for the people he hurt, whoever they are.  He’s a different person now that he’s grown up, but he takes responsibility for what he’s done.  If he assaulted Ford, he’s truly sorry, but he has no memory of the incident.  He’s a better person now and hasn’t behaved badly since then.

Third, suppose Kavanaugh is guilty.  Suppose he did it.  Then what?  Does that disqualify him from serving as a supreme court justice?  Not necessarily.  He can’t be convicted of a crime (having past the statute of limitations).  Youthful indiscretion, even crimes, may not reflect the type of person he is today.  Perhaps what he did was not really viewed as heinous in the culture in which he was raised.  Furthermore, he may be a genuinely changed person.  How should he have responded?  He should have sought out Ford privately and sought forgiveness.  He should have preemptively reached  out the the senate committee to explain that he has just learned of the effects of this thing he had done as a youth that he never realized had caused any harm and that he wanted to answer any questions they had about the matter (this would have been, not just the ethically right thing to do, but strategic as well).  He could have even become an advocate for women to step forward and confront their attackers, showing that they can do so safely without fear of retribution and humiliation.

However, instead of any of these responses, he chose to lie and throw a tantrum.  And now we know the type of people Republicans send to the highest court of the land.  Evidently, this is just the best they can do.

confirmed kavanaugh
Photo by Fred Schilling/Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford told a United States Senate committee that Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old.  Kavanaugh responded by throwing a tantrum.

Near the beginning of Ford’s statement (CBC, The Guardian, Global News), she claimed:

When I got to the small gathering, people were drinking beer in a small living room on the first floor of the house. I drank one beer that evening. Brett and Mark were visibly drunk. Early in the evening, I went up a narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the bathroom. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music already playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time.

Kavanaugh patently denied the claim.  In his opening remarks (CBC), he conceded,

I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many.

But, he maintained,

I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes.

Kavanaugh further claimed that Ford’s accusations somehow represent an attack by Democrats and the Clintons (The New Republic).  (Those who favor this explanation may bolster their beliefs by visiting the websites for Fox News or the Washington Examiner.)

There seem to be some problems with Kavanaugh’s rebuttal, though.  It seems odd that he admits that he used to drink too much, but then claims that he could remember everything he did while drunk.  Often, people who become as drunk as Ford claims Kavanaugh was do not remember what they did (NYT).  Also, it is interesting to compare the testimony of Ford and Kavanaugh.  A comparative chart (Vox) shows that Kavanaugh dodged many questions and Ford dodged none.

A key witness from the alleged encounter is Kavanaugh’s buddy, Mark Judge.  Judge has denied the event took place (ABC, Fox), but his testimony is far from definitive.  He, according to Ford, was also drunk at the time.  In fact, he seemed to have spent so much time being drunk that he wrote a book about it (The Intercept), although that book is hard to come by now (The New Yorker).

All of this puts Republicans in a tough spot.  They are hard pressed to ignore Ford or claim that she has made the whole thing up.  Some have tried pushing a doppelganger theory (Huffington Post) (‘yes, it may have happened, but it was somebody else’).  Others claim that this is all a conjuring trick by Senator Dianne Feinstein, whom, they claim, sat on the story for months and then leaked it at a politically opportune time (Feinstein denies this (Vox)).  While most Rebulican leaders seem eager to vote Kavanaugh into his seat before any more damage can be done, a minority of them, led by Senator Jeff Flake (Vox, The Atlantic), say they would like to remove the cloud of doubt on their nominee.

According to President Trump, this whole affair is the work of the evil Democrats (tweet, tweet).  He also reminds us that the midterms are very close (tweet).  Given the proportion of wealthy, entitled frat boys to women who have had to deal with unwanted sexual advances in the country, that’s a good thing for the Republicans to keep in mind.

angry kavanaugh