Chinese become US scapegoats yet again

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/8 21:28:41

Chinese become scapegoats for birthright citizenship issue

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

President Donald Trump's plan to repeal birthright citizenship with an executive order has led to plenty of discussion in and about the Chinese community in the US. The assumption seems to be that it was as much directed at China given the fraught trade relations with Beijing as about another prong in the assault on previous immigration policy.

Certainly Chinese people have played a significant role in the history of birthright citizenship. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship by stating that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States," was adopted in 1868. Thirty years later, it withheld a major test spinning around the fate of a Chinese man, Wong Kim Ark.

Born to a Chinese immigrant family in the US, Wong, a cook, had been traveling back and forth between China and the US. But in 1895, after one such trip, his entry was denied at the border. Three years earlier, the US had renewed the Chinese Exclusion Act that was enacted in 1882 for another 10 years, a notorious law that banned almost all Chinese from entering the US for more than half a century. Wong was considered by the authorities to be Chinese rather than American and therefore was subject to the ban.

The case was eventually decided in 1898 by the Supreme Court which made it clear that despite his parents' Chinese nationality, Wong's birth on US soil made him an American citizen. US v. Wong Kim Ark became the most important precedent protecting birthright citizenship.

In modern days, Chinese are linked with birthright citizenship for a not-so-glorious reason: maternity tourism.

To be sure, birthright citizenship is taken advantage of by foreign tourists from all over the world. The people concerned may not be going to live in the US for now, but would like to offer their children and themselves that option in the future (when they turn 21, US citizens can sponsor green cards for their parents). But with the middle class growing rapidly in China, the number of Chinese maternity tourists in the US is certainly topping those from other nations. It is hard to know exactly how many Chinese tourists have delivered babies in the US.

Incidents related to maternity service centers in the US, especially unlicensed ones, have attracted a lot of attention in the US and only gone to reaffirm the negative image associated with the Chinese and birthright citizenship. The most recent case happened on the morning of September 21 when an employee at one such maternity center in the largely Chinese neighborhood of Flushing in Queens, New York went berserk, slashed and stabbed clients and co-workers with a kitchen knife and injured three babies and two adults.

The attacker, an immigrant from Fuzhou, China, reportedly had to work 12-hour shifts and had depression. But rather than focusing on the mental health issues among overworked new immigrants, media allocated a big chunk of their coverage to the controversy about Chinese maternity tourism.    

It was not a surprise, though. From the beginning, birthright citizenship has been facing xenophobia from its opponents. When the 14th Amendment was debated in Congress in 1866, Senator Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania warned that birthright citizenship could result in "a flood of immigration of the Mongol race". He said millions of Chinese might pour unimpeded into California where they could quickly outnumber - and outcompete - the locals. Thieving, swindling, trespassing gypsies could overrun the country, and "people from Borneo, man-eaters or cannibals, if you please" would be given free rein to wreak their havoc in the US.

But the fear of an influx of foreigners often is only the smokescreen for really critical domestic conflicts. Back then when the status of the American-born offspring of African slaves became a major issue after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was badly needed mainly to ease the tensions. And now what's at stake is the issue of undocumented immigrants in the US.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2016 there were more than 4 million US born children under the age of 18 who have at least one undocumented parent. And if birthright citizenship is terminated by 2050, the population of unauthorized people in the US would jump to 24 million, more than double the current estimates.

Then there is still the thornier question of whether this president shows enough respect to the constitution by threatening to overpower it with executive orders. That's why many people who may not support maternity tourism are fighting the president's idea to repeal birthright citizenship, including many conservative politicians.

Chinese, once again, became the scapegoats in this issue.

The author is a New York-based journalist.


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