14: An inquiry of citizenship

By Andrew T. Hupp

Contributing Writer

On September 14, the Student Union Theater premiered the documentary 14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark, and Vanessa Lopez. The film focuses on the 14th amendment and its substantial impact on the United States of America and its inhabitants. However, the film was not merely created to be a history lesson. It exhibits how our society is influenced by this amendment, along with past and present pursuits to reform policies with the ambition of fostering a more equal nation.

The documentary first delves into the controversial case of Dred and Harriet Scott, who sought freedom for themselves and their daughters from slavery in 1847. A decade later the landmark case, Scott v. Sanford, lost because Scott was not considered a citizen. At this time in America, slaves were considered “property” and not “people”, thus Scott was not allowed to sue within the judicial system. When commenting on the cases imperativeness, the director of the film, Anne Galisky, said, “I would like for students to remember Harriet’s fight for her daughters, alongside her husband Dred, as one of the factors that brought us the 14th Amendment.”

41 years after Dred Scot v. Sanford and 33 years after emancipation from slavery came the highly debated case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. Although Ark’s parents were immigrants from China, the U.S. legally considered Ark a citizen based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment; which states that anyone born in the United States of America is considered a lawful citizen. However, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers, called Ark’s citizenship into question. After travelling abroad, Ark was denied reentry into his hometown of San Francisco. Ark challenged the United States and won his case in the Supreme Court. After the decision, the case set precedent for future arguments concerning the legality of natural born citizens in the United States.

More than 100 years later, these two colossal Supreme Court decisions impact the arguments on immigration. It is common in today’s political scene to hear arguments over immigration and the right to citizenship. In her documentary, Galisky said her team intended “to explore how the citizenship clause came to be in the Constitution and what is at stake today.”

As an example of the citizenship clause endeavor, Graham Street Productions followed the life of Vanessa Lopez and her family. The family, mostly undocumented immigrants from Mexico, fought to reform the 14th Amendment and deteriorate the stigma against “illegal aliens.” The documentary reveals the immigrant family as ordinary people. They had dreams, responsibilities, and hopes for their descendants like every other person living in the United States. By the illustration of the Lopez family, it was quite evident how fervent individuals have become toward this goal of modifying the 14th Amendment. A person who embodies this ardent spirit is Vanessa’s mother, Rosario Lopez. Lopez actively participated in everything from hunger strikes to peaceful protests with the hopes of inciting change within her community. Galisky films families like these so “young people will take away the idea that people of color and immigrants are not just a sidebar in American history.”

Galisky tries to remind students that “you are at the center of the movement to make this country better. Right here, right now. You can influence your peers and those older and younger than yourself. You can bring your passion for justice and your knowledge to the state capital and the U.S. capital. Our civil and human rights cannot be taken for granted.”

When asked about her opinion on Galisky’s view of national participation, in relation to the film, Haylee Ferguson (C’20) said, “I think it’s very noble that we have people willing to tackle such controversial issues and it should remind us of our power we have as citizens of the U.S.” The whole goal of Galisky’s film was to spark a “conversation starter, not a conversation ender” within communities. It is abundantly clear that 14 has sparked that conversation Galisky was so eager for and hopefully it will encourage additional action to educate and pursue reform in our country.

8 thoughts

  1. I don’t have a problem with Congress defining Citizens of the United States at birth. My problem is when you take the next step and declare such persons born within the jurisdiction as Art. II §I Cl. 5 natural born citizens. They are not because they were not born “stateless,” like the slaves. To be a natural born Citizen of the United States by birth, you have to be born exclusively under U.S. sovereignty, with no foreign allegiances or attachments.

  2. One has to be “stateless” [i.e. a free individual], as the former slaves were, to acquire U.S. Citizenship.

  3. A natural born citizen had already been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court before it decided United States v. Wong Kim Wong (1898). That was done by Minor v. Happersett (1875). Virginia Minor had been born in the United States to two U.S. citizen parents. The unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that under the common law to which the Framers looked when they drafted and adopted the Constitution all children born in the country to parents who were its citizens were “natives, or natural-born citizens,” and that all the rest of the people were “aliens or foreigners” who could become “citizens” of the United States through naturalization by Congress or maybe under the Fourteenth Amendment. Since 1790 and up to that time, Congress’s naturalization Acts treated such children as aliens. Minor therefore left open the question of whether children born in the United States to alien parents were now “citizens” under the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanswered question was not whether such children were “natural born citizens,” who under the Court’s common law definition of the clause were not.

    Wong had been born in the United States, but to two alien parents. They were however domiciled and permanently residing in the United States and neither foreign diplomats nor military invaders. The United States maintained that Wong was an alien. The U.S. Supreme Court in Wong Kim Ark, because Wong was born to alien parents, had to answer the Fourteenth Amendment “citizen” question left open by Minor. It first confirmed Minor’s common law definition of a natural born citizen. It then moved on to address the Fourteenth Amendment. It held that Wong was a “citizen” of the United States from the moment of birth by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment because given that he was born in the United States to parents who were permanently residing in the United States and neither foreign diplomats nor military invaders, he was born in the United States while subject to its jurisdiction. It is not necessary to ask the question of whether a child born in the United States to U.S. citizen parents is born there subject to its jurisdiction. Wong Kim Ark did not hold that Wong was an Article II “natural born citizen” under the common law to which the Framers looked for the clause’s definition when they drafted and adopted the Constitution.

    Wong Kim Ark also confirmed that any child born out of the territory and jurisdiction of the United States even to two U.S. citizen parents cannot enjoy being a “citizen” by birthright alone, for he or she needs Congress to naturalize him or her through a naturalization Act and in default thereof the child is born an alien. A long line of subsequent U.S. Supreme Court cases (all cited in my petition) confirmed this fundamental principle of U.S. citizenship. Hence, there is no doubt that children born out of the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, even to two U.S. citizen parents, are at best “citizens” of the United States “at birth,” but only by virtue of an Act of Congress, and not by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment which defines a “citizen” of the United States “at birth,” let alone by the Framers’ common law that defines an Article II “natural born citizen.”

    So, the definition of a “natural born citizen” under the Framers’ common law is found in Minor while the definition of a “citizen” of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment is found in Wong Kim Ark. All other “citizens” of the United States “at birth” are found in the naturalization Acts of Congress. Today, an Article II natural born citizen is still a child born or reputed born in the United States to parents who were both U.S. citizens (natural born citizens or just citizens of the United States) at the time of the child’s birth.

    Being born in a foreign country (Canada) to a non-U.S. citizen (Cuban) father and presumably to a U.S. citizen mother who were not in the foreign country for purposes of serving the U.S. national defense, Senator Ted Cruz is a “citizen” of the United States “at birth,” but only by virtue of a naturalization Act of Congress. We can easily see that Cruz is not a natural born citizen, for if he had been born before 1922 (when Congress allowed for the first time women to transmit their U.S. citizenship to their children born out of the United States), he would have been born an alien and needed naturalization to become a citizen of the United States. He is therefore a naturalized “citizen” of the United States “at birth,” not a natural born citizen of the United States.

    John McCain is a natural born citizen because, even though he was born in Panama, he was born to two U.S. citizen parents who were serving the defense of the United States, which makes him reputed born in the United States to two U.S. citizen parents.

  4. “John McCain is a natural born citizen because, even though he was born in Panama, he was born to two U.S. citizen parents who were serving the defense of the United States, which makes him reputed born in the United States to two U.S. citizen parents.”

    I can agree with this if and only if McCain was born in the Canal Zone which was considered US territory at the time. Other than that only embassies are considered to be US soil (US military bases on foreign soil are not). McCain does not appear in the register of Canal Zone births which leads me to believe that he was actually born in Colon Hospital – not US soil and not a natural born Citizen.

  5. “John McCain is a natural born citizen because, even though he was born in Panama, he was born to two U.S. citizen parents who were serving the defense of the United States, which makes him reputed born in the United States to two U.S. citizen parents.”

    John McCain’s name does not appear in the birth register for the Canal Zone. I believe that he was born in Colon Hospital and is not a natural born Citizen.

  6. And even if McCain was born in the Canal Zone, it wasn’t t that time, the time of McCain’s birth, within the jurisdiction of the United States. That can 11 months after McCain was born.

    1. I’ve never correlated the dates. If you’re correct, McCain is not a natural born Citizen and Congress screwed the pooch on that call. What else is new? 🙁

Leave a Reply