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Sapochnick recites a typical recent email. “I’m a U.S. citizen and I’m planning to marry. My spouse is here illegally for the last 10 or 20 years. What are the steps?” Another reads, “I’ve been here for 10 or 20 years, and I married a U.S. citizen, I want to fix my papers. What am I going to do?”

A growing request is “I was born here but my parents who are still here are illegal. How can I sponsor them?” These emails are often crafted with an imploring tone: “My child is a U.S. citizen. He’s over 21. Shouldn’t he be able to help me?” Sapochnick says no, the child can’t help. This appeal he calls the “hot topic of the day” — birthright citizenship.

The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United Sates and of the State wherein they reside.” This “citizenship clause” overturned the Dred Scott decision, the pre–Civil War law that denied blacks citizenship.

In recent years, Congress has tightened immigration law, funded border security, beefed up penalties for businesses hiring illegals, and denied citizenship to the children of foreign nationals (those brought here at a young age) by defeating the Dream Act. What’s more, many politicians and activists have called the citizenship clause into question; they label those who receive automatic citizenship “anchor babies.” The designation, which critics call racially tinged, implies that parents come here illegally to insure their own presence in America via childbirth.

I ask Sapochnick for reasons his clients cite about their illegal entry. “To give their kids a better future,” he says, “is always the line.” He knows of many pregnant women who cross the border for superior medical treatment and the birthright but then return to Mexico. Later, their children come back (with birth certificate and Social Security number) to work or to attend school. Nowadays, the children must get a passport to go back and forth. This new passport requirement squeezes the children: if they are underage, both parents have to sign the application. Many don’t want to, fearing they’ll be found out and deported. Whenever Sapochnick explains the bureaucratic process to the parents of children born here, “they get depressed.” To illustrate the maze of immigration regulations, Sapochnick diagrams it on a sheet of paper.

“We have a three-step process. First, they file a ‘relative petition’ in the U.S.,” a phrase he writes out and circles. “This takes about five months.

“Once the relative petition is filed, if they are illegal, the case is then sent to the National Visa Center,” a second phrase he writes out and circles.

“What [the attorney does] is to prepare a case for an interview at the U.S. embassy in Mexico.” This, the final step, gets a third circle.

He next draws arrows between the circles. “The whole thing is going to take about one year. In the meantime, they are still here in the U.S.”

For the petitioner, it gets more complicated. “If the person decides to go back to Mexico” to report to the U.S. embassy in Mexico where his or her petition is being processed, with no guarantee that the request will be honored, “he or she will be barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.” Sapochnick, who has the ultra-patient mien of one who has made this tripartite drawing hundreds of times, draws an arrow on the diagram pointing down to indicate the worst news: returning to Mexico may mean never returning to the U.S. The possibility of a ten-year wait to see their children or to be permanently exiled, he says, stops most parents in their tracks. They must decide whether to leave and take their chances or stay in America in the shadows.

“That’s a very tough decision,” he says.

His success rate for achieving resident or citizenship status for spouses (who marry a U.S. citizen) is 80 percent. “But if it’s a parent, whose child is a citizen” — his tone darkens — “it’s very difficult.”

What Sapochnick would like to see — “I can tell you, in the next ten years, amnesty is not going to happen” — is a return to a short-lived period in early 2001, when immigrants with undocumented status could pay a fine and begin the citizen process without fear of deportation. Signed into law by President Clinton as he left office, section 245i declared that if you proved you’d been in the country for a long time, you could pay a $1000 fine and, as Sapochnick notes, “We’ll let you become legal.” A revival of that law, which ended in April 2001, would, for his clients, mean a kind of pocket amnesty.

Constitutional Precedent and Paradox

Though the challenge to birthright citizenship is fervently embraced by the Tea Party, amending the Fourteenth Amendment has a long and largely impotent career in Congress. In 1993, Nevada Democratic senator Harry Reid wrote a bill clarifying the citizenship clause of the Constitution, stating, in part, that any child born to a mother not of U.S. citizenship is subject to the jurisdiction of the mother’s home country and not the jurisdiction of the United States. His bill never got out of its Senate committee. Since Reid’s proposal, a bill to end or redefine the Fourteenth Amendment has been introduced into each Congress. In the late 1990s, during his first stint on the Hill, Republican Brian Bilbray proposed legislation ending birthright citizenship. (As the representative of San Diego’s 50th district, Bilbray still supports such legislation.) In 2006, President Bush told the states that they would lose federal matching funds for Medicaid — in California, the money funds part of the state-run program, Medi-Cal — if the states failed to document legal residency of their clients. H.R. 1940, called the “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2007,” which would have amended the Fourteenth Amendment, never got out of committee, even in a Republican-controlled Congress. What’s more, neither President Bush nor Senator John McCain supported the bill. Last year, at a Tea Party rally in Ramona, Representative Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, called for the deportation of illegal parents and their U.S.-born children, saying, “We’re not being mean. We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen. It’s what’s in our souls.”

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Comments

minutemanproject Sept. 23, 2011 @ 12:44 a.m.

As long as organizations like the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), William Gheens's ALIPAC, and Jeff Schwilk's San Diego Minutemen (SDMM) are involved in the illegal immigration issue there will never be a respectable solution to the problem.

In my opinion, these hooligans of political activism have so tarnished the image of immigration law enforcement advocates that it has become extremely difficult to get serious and committed attention to the issue by our nation's political governors.

It is no wonder that the Obama Administration has seized the opportunity to take advantage of the disarray of so-called immigration law enforcement activists by announcing its planned "delay" (aka amnesty) in court proceedings for the millions of illegal aliens currently occupying U.S. territory.

Although there are many sincere and well-meaning persons involved in the movement advocating enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, they have unfortunately been trampled and shouted down by the ultra right bullies of political activism who really are involved in activism only as a means of fulfilling a sick quest for a delusional recognition as the "savior" of America, or to carry out a covert racist agenda.

Shockingly, as I look back on the past seven years of activism in the illegal immigration issue, I can honestly say that I have encountered more unethical, immoral, and criminal-minded persons from my side of the debate than I have from the adversarial side of the debate.

Unless immigration law enforcement advocates conduct themselves in a respectable manner, there is little chance any political representative or candidate will ever take them seriously. Ergo, there is a very high likelihood that U.S. immigration laws will never be seriously enforced and "amnesty for illegals" will be the conduct du jour.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

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Fred Williams Sept. 26, 2011 @ 10:12 a.m.

One of the main reasons we have illegal immigration in the first place is that LEGAL immigration is ridiculously difficult:

http://reason.org/files/cb299f0134ca8bb75243c69caa92eea7.pdf

To demonize those who are forced to dodge this bizarre maze of contradictions is immoral.

When I was on the Border Solution Task Force, I found too that those who are involved in this issue are too frequently unethical, immoral, and criminal minded racists. I quit that group to save my own dignity and reputation...I want immigration reform, not lynch mobs of the ignorant rounding up hard working people who happened to be born on the wrong side of a border.

Full Disclosure: I've lived and worked, legally, in several countries around the world. Because of my technical skills and experiences, many places welcome me and I pay them a lot in taxes. My own country, however, according to the rules, would never allow me in...that's how pathetic current immigration rules are.

Best,

Fred Williams

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Justified Sept. 23, 2011 @ 1:34 p.m.

Does Mr. Gilchrist have a google alert set for Jeff Schwilk's name? Because every time I read an article with Jeff's name in it, I always find a defamation remark written by Gilchrist about Jeff. If I was Mr. Schwilk, I would file a lawsuit.

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rubliw Sept. 24, 2011 @ 12:41 p.m.

Mr. Gilchrist has done more damage to the illegal immigration movement than anyone. Who founds a program and then goes out of their way to destroy it? I tell you who, the person that becomes not so much the media darling anymore, not so much bank accounts filled to the top, other groups doing the right thing getting better notoriety . Mr. Gilchrist How many times have you actually day in or day out been on the front lines doing the foot work? I've seen you do the photo ops, nothing else. If you gave a flying leap about the movement you would not be trying to put down the movement every chance you get, while giving kudos to the other side. Really? You need to say nothing, instead of trying to sound important, and keep your name out there. If you want to defect just do it and leave the movement alone. When you write on these blogs, write the truth, not falsehoods. Your importance has been greatly exaggerated.

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Twister Sept. 24, 2011 @ 9:29 p.m.

My grandpappy was descended from a bunch of aliens who slaughtered my grandmother's people and imposed government (my grandmother's people didn't need no stinkin' gummint!) upon them, but she married him anyway. I'm "stuck" with the fact that if they ever made all the aliens go back where they came from, they'd have to cut more than a pound of flesh off me to send back.

"My ancestors didn't come over in the Mayflower--they met the boat."

"I am a Cherokee and it's the proudest little possession I ever hope to have." ~Will Rogers

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minutemanproject Sept. 25, 2011 @ 10:14 p.m.

Gee whiz, Justified, sorry it offends you if I bring public awareness to the rampant illegal alien invasion of the United States with my talent for media involvement. But, that is how issues come under the national spotlight. duh!

Going to the border to have a weeny roast BBQ and dunk a few beers with a bunch of incurable KKK wannabes, and calling that border observation "foot work" is not my idea of an effective use of time. It's tantamount to a bunch of Brown Beret wannabes at a "hate the gringo" pinata contest, or a bunch of Black Panthers at a Louis Farrakahn "kill whitey" hate fest dinner thinking that's all they need to do to make the world a better place.

When I go to the border I bring hundreds of volunteers and stay on outposts for weeks. I also vet participants to exclude social maladroits and outright racists who have attempted to attach themselves to a movement that should be conducted within the rule of law if it wants any chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, the ongoing infighting sponsored by ALIPAC, SDMM and CCIR have stalled the Minuteman Project's plan of bringing 2,500 (yes, twenty five hundred) volunteers to the Arizona border for another 30-day observation and reporting event. I've done it before; I can do it again...bigger and better next time. We have the resources to pull it off. But, that event will be postponed until the trouble-making activists in this movement conduct themselves in a respectable and mature manner.

I do not make a policy to "put down the [immigration law advocacy] movement every chance" I get. But my experiences with some of the persons, in my opinion, who have tried to dominate the issue with their own brands of fascism, racism, and incurable hatred have led me to distance my organization from them. Honestly, the worst participants, perhaps with the most sinister followers, are ALIPAC, San Diego Minutemen, and the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, as well as some greedy former volunteers.

I didn't pick a fight with them. They picked a fight with me and the most precious values established by our nation's Founding Fathers. Many American men and women have died for those precious values over the centuries, including 72 good young men from my own company of Marine infantrymen in the Vietnam War. The Minuteman Project refuses to associate with "goose steppers," criminal mentalities, haters, bigots, and those with a penchant for lying and stealing. Sorry if that disappoints you, but that is the guiding light I follow.

I will continue to move the issue of illegal immigration, but I will do it without the interference of those ignorant and foolish persons who have put the movement into a stalemate by sponsoring infighting. These hooligans are no better than the "reconquistas" or the reckless politicians who have aggressively encouraged this unprecedented invasion of our country.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

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David Dodd Sept. 26, 2011 @ 5:41 a.m.

Excuse me, Mr. Gilchist, but you and your henchman are about 15 years too late to the party. I don't care who is or isn't a racist, there is no separation of hatred from any of the groups. A bunch of Veterans missing their days in the service got together and cooked up a scheme so swell that I'm sure you all have yourselves convinced that millions of illegals are massing into the U.S. every week. Sorry to disappoint you and the politicians that have obviously duped 40% or more of the American people into believing that illegals entering the country is some big enormous problem, but the very small amount of illegals that enter the country pales in comparison with the problem that the U.S. now has, which is what to do about the many millions of Mexicans and people of other nationalities that have been living and working in the U.S. for 20 years or more.

So why don't you and all of the other Rambo types put away your guns, break camp, get together back in the city, and figure out a solution to THAT issue. And you'll have to do it without violating their human rights, an issue that Arizona obviously doesn't yet understand. And you'll have to do it knowing that until the U.S. Constitution is changed, that all of their babies and children that were born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, so deporting their parents might not be in the best interest of the U.S. since having a bunch of babies and children being taken care of by the State doesn't sound like a good idea.

And you can start first by understanding that the U.S. brought this on themselves. I've lived in Mexico, right here on the border, for almost 20 years. When I first came here - crossing the border every day through various ports of entries - literally thousands of illegals simply ran through the border every day in packs of a couple of hundred at a time. Sometimes the single border guard that chased the pack managed to apprehend one. Before I came to live here, I hear it was much worse.

That never happens now.

I could go back to research I've done, historically, concerning how the State of California actually encouraged Mexicans - regardless of status, paperwork, citizenship - to cross any way they could and work the fields in Central California, as late as the 1960's. But I won't bother, I'm sure that all of this has been pointed out to you before. The problem started then and there. The point is, your organizations will never have any effect on the politics of trying to get the government to keep a few dozen Mexicans a week from entering the U.S. illegally through the desert. Because what you are doing is a silly and veiled attempt at pretending you are back in the service and somehow serving your country. You aren't, you are simply making yourselves more irrelevant in the eyes of anyone that would take up a cause that you are pretending to promote.

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Evelyn Sept. 26, 2011 @ 2:34 p.m.

oh man, a million cover stories can be done up on the topic… and now for my thoughts:

people be tripping if they think i'm gonna vote to lose my citizenship. (re: amending the 14th amendment) my brother's might be for it, but then again, their conservatives and i'm a bleeding heart liberal.

and how unpatriotic are the doctors and hospitals that help any woman in labor without checking their documentation. isn't america's wellbeing more important than the individual's!?!?

actually my socialist leaning would command a yes to the above question; except for the fact that if a significant number of our individuals are weakened, then the entire system is weakened.

it's ridiculous to hear people say that if they could cross legally then everyone should, like Maria in the story. she was a nurse in Mexico: she had a job, she had an income, she didn't have an overwhelming desperate need to move countries. desperation makes people do crazy, crazy, desperate things.

in the end, I think refried's right. the us needs a solution to the undocumented immigrants currently in country. and, id add, mexico needs a solution that focuses on self reliance within its country, not the US's… and the countries seriously need to improve the immigration process. or even just the come over the imaginary line and visit for a while process (i.e. visas and passports).

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David Dodd Sept. 27, 2011 @ 1:21 p.m.

I agree, it is certainly time for Mexico to end its encouragement of migration to the U.S. in order to take advantage of money sent home. It is getting better, but there is a long way to go here.

I'll add this: My own sister-in-law, armed with a visa, had her little girl in the U.S. Why? Because her husband has family in Los Angeles, U.S. citizens, and they visit often. She came right back into Mexico, she has a practice here and does just fine for herself. Sometimes it's simply the convenience of being able to cross the border once every few months without repercussions.

As for myself, my daughter was born right here in Tijuana. My wife had a visa at the time, and we discussed it, and decided that ultimately, she should be born Mexican and decide for herself. She has a Green Card. If I wanted to, I could certainly push the issue, as I am a U.S. citizen, so long as I pay the U.S. Government a "fee", she will automatically become a U.S. citizen. That's not going to happen. That decision is hers.

But there are far too many trapped in the U.S. That really is the bigger issue.

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SDMM Sept. 27, 2011 @ 10:20 p.m.

Dozens of countries around the world have repealed their birthright citizenship laws over the past 20 year. Only the U.S. and Canada still continue the practice of giving free citizenship to the babies of ILLEGAL aliens, among industrialized nations. It is time to repeal BRC in 2011.

HR 140 must be pushed for a vote, passage in Congress, and signed by our the president. Its the right and sane thing to do to close the anchor baby loophole for illegal aliens.

Mr. Gilchrist speaks only for himself since he was kicked out of the mainstream secure borders movement in 2008. He was further exiled in 2009 when his border director, Shawna Forde, murdered a 9 year old girl and her father in Arivaca, AZ. She was convicted earlier this year and is on death row awaiting execution. Gilchrist has been trying to sabotage the movement and all other real grass-roots groups every since. He's a sad, broken man and fallen leader. His slander and smear above are completely false and meaningless.

All legitimate Patriot groups in Southern California are part of the SoCal Patriot Coalition. 34 good groups in all - www.SoCalPatriots.com. />

Illegal aliens and their offspring in California (est. 4 million) cost CA taxpayers over $20 BILLION each year. See the breakdown of costs in the 2010 study at www.FAIRus.org.

The only people who still support ILLEGAL immigration and open borders in 2011 are family members of illegals and persons involved in the smuggling and exploitation of illegal aliens and drugs from Mexico, i.e. organized crime. Oh and ignorant bleeding heart liberals. Real Americans respect the rule of law and LEGAL immigration.

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SDMM Sept. 28, 2011 @ 11:28 p.m.

By the way, Jeff Schwilk is part Hispanic and many other leaders in the SoCal Patriot Coalition are Mexican-American or Hispanic.

Jim Gilchrist is 100% anglo. When he says he knows lots of racists in his "movement", he's obviously speaking only for his tiny fundraising MMP group which is run by 3 white men: Gilchrist, Steven Eichler, and Tim Bueler. You be the judge.

This is one main reason MMP was kicked out of the mainstream anti-illegal immigration movement in 2008. Gilchrist is a fraud and a scam artist with questionable associations and affiliations.

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