Rep. James Knox, a Republican, has introduced a bill that purports to “reinterpret” the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and strip citizenship from certain children of immigrants and dual citizens. The hearing on this unconstitutional and bigoted bill was heated. Only one person spoke in support of the bill, with a dozen opponents — including me — speaking against it. In his closing, James Knox referred to me as the “gentleman from Pakistan” even though I testified that I was born in the U.S. He also referred to my U.S. citizenship as an accident.
Click here to listen to the Yellowstone Public Radio segment on HB 392. The Billings Gazette published an article on this bill. Newstation KXLH has also published an article as well as a video segment on this bill.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer was quick to point out that this bill is unconstitutional, and that he will veto the bill if necessary. I applaud the Governor for speaking out strongly against this un-American bill. We have previously written about Gov. Schweitzer’s personal understanding of our immigration system, and the need to treat immigrants fairly.
The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly controls both state and federal citizenship laws, and Montana state legislators have no power or authority to change our country’s constitution. The interpretation of the 14th Amendment included in this bill is invented out of whole cloth. Long ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, regardless of their lineage.
In order to do what this bill tries to accomplish, one would have to amend the U.S. Constitution. Last time I checked, they couldn’t do that in a committee of the Montana legislature. If the committee passes this bill, and the rest of the legislature shares in its delusion and enacts this law, lawsuits will be immediately filed. The law will be enjoined and then invalidated. They will have accomplished nothing, because this bill attempts to do what the state simply cannot.
What the legislature is deciding is not implementation of this law, which is impossible, but whether it wants to take our state down a path that generations of Montanans will look back on with shame.
What this bill would attempt to do is strip people like me of their citizenship. Both of my parents are from Pakistan. They grew up in a small village in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The village had extremely limited resources and only the best and brightest students were able to study past high school. My Dad was one of only a few students from his village who was able to graduate and attend college. He studied medicine and became a doctor. In 1974, he got a visa to enter the United States to practice medicine in an underserved community that had a serious need for doctors.
A few years later, I was born. I acquired citizenship at birth, and became a U.S. citizen before both of my parents. However, they both naturalized a few years later. If this bill had applied to me when I was born, it could have stripped me of my citizenship, because my parents were Pakistani citizens at that time, and under Pakistani law I would have been considered a Pakistani citizen. That could have made me a “foreign national” as far as this bill was concerned.
Thankfully, the law has never and will never work as this bill contemplates. Everyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, and that includes the children of immigrants. I just had my first son two months ago. As a new father, and in my line of work as an immigration attorney, I can’t tell you how often I am thankful that my parents came to the U.S. and that I was born here.
The bill tries to state that Montana citizenship does not “confer any right, privilege, immunity, or benefit under law” (as stated on lines 26-27, page 1). This language is a crude attempt to assert that it doesn’t violate the privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. constitution. Well, I value my citizenship dearly. Citizenship is one of the most important rights and privileges that one has.
James Knox and the Republican legislators should ask themselves if they think Montanans will take kindly to this. I know I won’t stand for my citizenship being tinkered with by this state legislature.
If the Montana Legislature passes this bill, it will be flagrantly violating the U.S. constitution in a manner not seen since the days of Brown v. Board of Education. I anticipate that the response will be as swift.