On her show “The Kelly File,” Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Sen. Ted Cruz, “If you had a husband and a wife who are illegal immigrants and they have two children who are American citizens, would you deport all of them? Would you deport the American citizen children?”
Kelly honed in on one of the most emotional and practical elements of the immigration debate. Donald Trump said he would deport the entire family. Cruz didn’t take the bait and dodged the question, focusing instead on policy changes to stop illegal immigration in the first place.
Some might be applauding Cruz for evading the trap, but neither is right—not Trump by giving the government totalitarian-type powers to deport American citizens nor Cruz in evading the realities of deportation. Even Kelly was wrong in her presumptive line of questioning because she presupposed that a pro-deportation plan is a no-win scenario: If you want to deport illegal immigrants, then you’re either guilty of breaking up families by deporting the parents or you’re violating the rights of children who are American citizens. Any politician who supports either position would come off looking like a bad guy. This, however, is a false dichotomy.
Make Illegal Immigrants Choose, Not Lawmakers
To begin with, current legislation before Congress to end birthright citizenship for illegal aliens says nothing about revoking the citizenship of children who are already here or sending them back to their native country. Rep. Steve King’s bill proposes that we should grandfather in those who are already citizens: “The amendment made by subsection (a)(3) shall not be construed to affect the citizenship or nationality status of any person born before the date of the enactment of this Act.” No one is going to violate the rights of American citizens, even if they are children of illegal immigrants.
But this doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about their parents who are here illegally. Do we deport them and break up the family? Or do we ignore the law and let them stay?
The answer is simple and straightforward. We are a nation of laws. If anyone is here illegally, crossing our borders under the cover of darkness, taking advantage of our system, putting Americans at risk, and abusing our generosity, then they have to go back home. Deport them according to due process, however long it takes, but enforce the law.
If they happen to have a child here who is an American citizen, then the choice is theirs. They can take that child with them when they go back to their home country or leave the child here in the care of friends or legal relatives. This decision is not our government’s responsibility because children are not wards of the state, and it’s not the state’s fault if the parents decide to leave their children behind. It’s the parents’ responsibility; no one else’s.
We Don’t Let Prisoners Out Because They Have Kids
“But why can’t we just grant them amnesty and let them stay here with their children?” In other words, why don’t we stop enforcing our immigration laws for the sake of family unity? First, we don’t sidestep the law just to keep families together. If we did and were consistent about it, then we would release all parents from prison because enforcing our laws has separated them from their children. How many kids are in foster care because their parents have broken the law and are unable to care for them? Don’t these children deserve to have an intact family as much as the children of illegal immigrants? Yet, every day, children are separated from their parents and families are broken apart because the parents have violated the law.
Second, it’s about choices and accountability. When our nation enforces its immigration laws, “we” are not separating families. That choice must be made by the parents who came here in the first place. These people didn’t come to the United States against their will. They made a choice. At some point, as they were in their native country, they decided because of any number of reasons, “I’m going to leave my home and travel across the border to the United States. I’m not going to go through the legal channels like other immigrants do. I’m going to break the law.”
Then, either before or after they arrived, they had a child. The pregnancy might or might not have been on purpose, to be used as a tool to anchor them to American soil. We don’t know, and it’s not for us to judge. I would guess most pregnancies just happen, as most pregnancies do, out of love. But regardless of the parents’ motivations, the child is an American citizen. They have their “anchor baby”—at least until someone comes along to enforce our immigration laws and deport them, forcing them to accept responsibility for their decision to break the law. When that happens, they have another choice to make—what to do about their child. That’s not a choice to be made by a President Cruz or a President Trump or anyone else. That’s their choice.
Ask Parents That Question, Not Candidates
Given this fact, Kelly shouldn’t be asking presidential candidates what they’re going to do about the American citizen children of illegal immigrants facing deportation. She should ask the parents themselves. When families are broken up because of bad choices, the blame is not on those upholding the law, but on those breaking it.
Here’s my advice to presidential candidates who have to answer the inevitable gotcha question about deporting children: Look the reporter straight in the eye and say, “Deportation of American citizens isn’t an option. Deportation of illegal immigrants is the only option. As for where their children will live, that’s up to the parents, not me. The children are free to stay or go. I respect family autonomy and the authority of parents. Unlike liberals, I don’t think I know better than parents. I believe in freedom. It was their choice to come here illegally. It was their choice to have a child here who became an American citizen. It is now their choice to either keep their family together and take their child with them when they return to their home country or not. If they decide to leave their child behind, that guilt is their cross to bear, not mine.”