The military community internet blew up on Wednesday over a new policy signed out by the Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS). My Facebook feed exploded with the news that children born to U.S. military parents stationed overseas would have to undergo the naturalization process to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Wait. What?! My kid can’t be President because I am serving my country in Korea? Are you (expletive deleted) kidding me?
The Department of Homeland Security quickly pulled the narrative back, clarifying that the policy only affects children born to non-U.S. citizen parents (non-citizen members of the military, or non-citizen foreign service employees). So then the veteran vigilante justice posse stood down, myself included, and we went on about our business of posting late National Dog Day photos.
When I shared this with my mother last night (a 20-year military spouse and mother of three veterans), she had a different response than my Facebook friends. She simply said, “It’s just the first step. They’re testing it out.”
It is an oft-repeated pattern in this White House: release information that appears unbelievable and then “correct the record.” This tactic has many benefits, including blaming the media for publishing incomplete information. Most importantly, by proving the actual policy or action to be less draconian than what was originally presented, the administration gets buy-in because we are so relieved the first story isn’t true.
In this case the military community, including me, absolutely played into the administration’s hands. I’m not going to lie. Being played like this smarts a little bit. Especially since I am a former Navy public affairs officer. PAOs are the military’s media spokespeople. Basically, I, and many of my online friends, are highly informed consumers of military news because we have helped the media make military news. That means when we posted the original story, people believed us. Even strong Trump supporters believed me and the “mainstream media” for once.
And then, as we were riling the masses to a fever pitch, DHS let everybody off the hook. And the first thought many of us had was, “Oh, so if Shaggy had a kid on active duty he would have had to apply for naturalization. That’s not so bad.” (Shaggy is a Jamaican reggae singer who joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1987, serving for four years.)
But I don’t know. If I am an up-and-coming singer on the reggae scene and I leave Jamaica and weed and dance hall to join the U.S. Freaking Marines, and actually see combat on behalf of the United States in the first Gulf War, perhaps my sacrifice should be worth birthright citizenship for my kids.
Back to my mother’s foreshadowing: What’s next? If we tolerate this, who’s next to be stripped of citizenship rights?
It’s the behind-the-scenes policy wonkdom that bothers me. Since we haven’t had a coherent immigration policy since I’ve been alive (The last guest worker program ended in 1964. Do the math.), it’s high time for meaningful immigration reform debate in Congress. Pulling back birthright citizenship via what DHS calls a “highly technical policy document” (Read: “Don’t worry, Joe Sixpack, you don’t have to understand this”) should be as upsetting to us as any notion of firearm bans or press censorship.
Does the 14th Amendment mean as much to us in the East Mountains as the 2nd Amendment? The oldest families here—land grant families—definitely predate the U.S. in New Mexico yet exercise the highest levels of participatory citizenship. Go to any Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremony in the East Mountains, and you will be struck by the number of your neighbors who have served. Citizenship means something to us here on the east slope. Are we willing to defend it?
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a former Navy officer and PR executive. She lives north of I-40 where she and her family run two head of dog, and one of cat.