by Bennett Hochner, Sage creek High School
As the sands of time continue trickling through the hourglass of American history, the United States Constitution and its Amendments have remained the highest law of the land. They delineate the framework for our government, outline the separation of powers, and detail how liberty and justice for its citizens shall be safeguarded. The term citizen is not synonymous to person, although the distinction between the two words has apparently been blurred somewhat in recent years. Yet, when looking to the Constitution itself for guidance, as well as other applicable law, the definition for the term citizen is actually quite clear. In short, a citizen is not an alien (or foreign-born non-naturalized individual). Instead, according to long-standing law, a citizen must be a person who was either born in this country or naturalized. For this reason, and as further explained below, if I were a California State Legislator, I could not support California Senate Bill SB-174.
Starting first with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, it unequivocally states that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” (Amend. XIV, sect. 1). Likewise, California’s Government Code Section 241 provides an equally succinct definition of citizen, and sets forth that citizens are “[a]ll persons born in the State and residing within it, except the children of transient aliens and of alien public ministers and consuls” and “[a]ll persons born out of the State who are citizens of the United States and residing within the State” (Cal Gov Code § 241). The language in both is straight forward – a citizen must either be born in the United States or naturalized. Neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor Government Code Section 241 discriminates against a person based on his or her nationality, race, religion, age, or socio-economic background. To the contrary, they merely explain that a citizen must have either been born in this country or naturalized.
SB-174 attempts to broaden the definition of citizen to a point that was never contemplated or intended under federal or state law. The Bill is looking to include individuals that merely reside in the State of California, regardless of their actual citizenship. Further, as currently drafted, one must ask, “How does SB-174 define the term reside?” For example, should a person who has entered the country illegally (or legally) and resided in California for three or four weeks be eligible to serve on a local or state board or commission? What about three or four months, or three or four years? Where is the dividing line? SB-174 creates a slippery slope as it not only turns the word citizen on its head, but it also creates ambiguity over what the term reside means.
The rationale behind SB-174 is to increase access to local and state boards and commissions for immigrants and to be more inclusive of people of various backgrounds (Assembly Committee on Judiciary). However, this can be, and already is, accomplished as seen by the makeup of the members of different California boards and commissions. For instance, California’s State Board of Equalization includes ethnically diverse board members (specifically, Diane Harkey, Jerome Horton, Fiona Ma, George Runner, and Betty Yee) (California State Board of Equalization). Another example, among others, is the California Board of Accountancy (California Board of Accountancy). On a local level, the same is true with the joint Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Transit System, San Diego Transit Corporation, and San Diego Trolley, Inc., which consists of 15 community leaders with diverse backgrounds (San Diego Metropolitan Transit System). Allowing aliens to be eligible to sit on a state or local board or commission (without compensation, since 8 U.S. Code Section 1324a makes it unlawful to “hire, or to recruit or refer for a fee, for employment in the United States an alien knowing the alien is an unauthorized alien”) is unnecessary since there is no compelling state interest in permitting them to hold these positions when the diverse, multi-background voices of our State’s citizens who are already on these boards (or eligible to be) can and do appreciate their perspectives in addition to others that live in our communities (8 USC § 1324a).
By opposing SB-174, it does not mean that one is against non-native born or non-naturalized individuals. In fact, undisputedly, aliens have been and continue to be contributors to, and an important part of, our society’s fabric. A “no” vote, however, means that although an alien is certainly a person entitled to various rights, based on applicable law, he or she is not a citizen that is eligible to sit on a state or local board or commission until he or she becomes naturalized.
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8 USC § 1324a
Assembly Committee on Judiciary. SB-174 Citizens of the State, Bill Analysis, Assembly Judiciary. 2018.
Cal Gov Code § 241
California Board of Accountancy. “CBA Members.” Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), www.dca.ca.gov/cba/about-cba/board.shtml. Accessed 5 Aug. 2018.
California State Board of Equalization. “Board Members.” Board of Equalization – State of California, www.boe.ca.gov/members/board.htm. Accessed 5 Aug. 2018.
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. “Board of Directors.” San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, www.sdmts.com/about-mts-organization-charts/board-directors. Accessed 5 Aug. 2018.
U.S. Constitution. Amend. XIV, Sec. 1.