One of the requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States is to pass a civics test. The knowledge contained within the civics test is supposed to be basic historical, social, and political information about the United States. There are many requirements to become a citizen – good moral character, physical presence, continuous residence – but the citizenship test is one that is symbolic of the process.
Ipsos Public Affairs gave the examination to 2,000 Americans. You can see how they performed here.
Birthright Citizenship: Supreme Court Turns Down Review for American Samoans
The Supreme Court turned down an appeal yesterday, meaning that the justices will not review an appeals court ruling that only Congress, not courts, can change the law that birth in the American Samoa does not confer US citizenship. A law passed in 1900 declared that individuals born in the American Samoa are US nationals but not US citizens. The 1900 law reflected the ethos of its time: Supreme Court ruled that people in the newly acquired U.S. territories were not entitled to all the constitutional rights of American citizens. Justice Henry Brown said the “development of the American empire” could be set back by the “annexation of distant possessions,” which are “inhabited by alien races.”
Five American Samoans pointed to the 14th Amendment in bringing their case, which confers birthright citizenship to individuals born in the United States. Other territories of the US received birthright citizenship in the 20th century, but American Samoans remain without it.
Birthright citizenship was enshrined in the 14th Amendment, which is one of the three post-Civil War amendments. The purpose of birthright citizenship is to ensure all individuals born in the United States are citizens, rather than creating classes of citizenship, such as that which existed antebellum.
Today, September 17, the United States celebrates Constitution Day. It commemorates the fact that the US Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 (ratified in 1788). Schools across the country celebrate the day by holding civic-minded events. James Madison is known as the author of the charter. He would later become the Secretary of State and our fourth president. He has both a university and many states have a ‘Madison County’ in honor of him. The original Constitution resides in the National Archives Building.
The Constitution was not the first law of the land. Once the colonies defeated the British in the Revolutionary War, the government they created was a loose federation of semi-autonomous nation states. The thirteen colonies became thirteen states, but the adopted Articles of Confederation were inappropriate to forming a cohesive nation. Each state had its own currency and laws that made commerce, travel, and coexistence difficult. The amount and types of power that the federal government should exercise versus individual state autonomy is an issue that remains contentious and inherent to American political thought in the present.
The Constitution initially contained ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. As the Constitution was being drafted, Federalists and anti-Federalists argued over the nature of the new political system. Federalists, such as Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton demanded a stronger central government that could control finances. Anti-federalists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were weary of a strong federal government, feeling that the Revolutionary War’s purpose was to overthrow faraway central power in favor of local governance. The Bill of Rights can be viewed as a limitation of the government’s power, in homage to the wishes of the anti-Federalists.
While the Bill of Rights were signed on September 17, 1787, the Fourteen Amendment was not ratified until July 9, 1868. Along with the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, they are known as the Civil War amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment contains many powers – due process, equal protection, privileges or immunities. It also contains the Citizenship Clause, granting birthright citizenship. By merely being born in the United States, a person is a United States citizen. There is no lineage issue of worrying about parental heritage or citizenship. Two foreign nationals can give birth to an American. That by itself does not lead to any immigration benefits to the parents. Birthright citizenship has been a cornerstone of American law for nearly 150 years. It has become a hotrod issue in American politics, as some candidates have harangued the concept as detrimental and as something to abolish. Candidates whose platforms include immigration restriction often target it as an unnecessary benefit that rewards unauthorized migrants for giving birth in the US.
A federal judge in Texas temporarily stopped the expanded DACA and DAPA programs. Today, February 18, 2015, USCIS was supposed to begin accepting applications for expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a press release acknowledging the decision to shut down the two programs temporarily before they even began accepting applications.
The lawsuit involved 26 states that argued the Obama Administration had exercised substantive and legislative powers that only belong to the legislative branch. Executive actions pertaining to immigration have been issued by every president since Eisenhower. The government noted that deferral actions have been taken since the 1960s in their brief. The judge agreed with the 26 states, finding unconstitutionality in his order. DHS vows that it will appeal the decision. The Office of Legal Counsel, which serves an advisory role for the executive branch, issued an opinion on November 19, 2014 (the day before the executive actions were announced by President Obama). The opinion advised that DAPA and an expanded DACA program would be legal and within the constitutional powers of the president.
The older version of DACA remains in effect and the recipients of DACA are not affected by this decision.
That first version of DACA was not at issue in the lawsuit, though it was tangentially mentioned and criticized. Seeing as over half of the states participated in bringing this lawsuit and the Obama Administration and DHS are planning to appeal, more court battles are expected over the separation of powers, adherence to the Administrative Procedure Act, and DAPA and DACA. The president issued his series of executive orders in November 2014 as a result of congressional inability to pass comprehensive or incremental immigration reform that has been clamored for years. The Senate passed immigration reform in 2013, providing a pathway to citizenship, but that bill did not become law because the House voted against it.