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2004 Worthington Essay Prize

Worthington Essay Contest Prize Winners, 2004:


Legal and illegal immigration accounts for over two-thirds of nationwide population growth. With 292 million people, the United States is the third most populated country in the world, behind China and India. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of California increased by 4.2 million people. Approximately 4.1 million of these were immigrants and their children. California has more than nine million immigrants overall. The combined birthrate for California's U.S. citizens and immigrants who are not Latino is around replacement level with births roughly equaling deaths. Illegal immigrants contribute substantially to the increase — an estimated two million illegal immigrants live in California. Nationwide, the number of illegal immigrants is believed to be between eight and eleven million.

The Constitution grants several fundamental rights. The United States Supreme Court has also recognized certain rights that are endemic to the enumerated rights. These are called "penumbral" rights. For example the right to privacy is a penumbral right. The Court has recognized procreation as a penumbral right. In 1942, the Supreme Court decided the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, a case dealing with the legality of a statute that allowed Oklahoma to sterilize habitual criminals. The Court wrote as follows: "Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race. The power to sterilize, if exercised, may have subtle, far reaching and devastating effects. In evil or reckless hands it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to wither and disappear" (316 U.S. at 541). The right of procreation, however, is not absolute. The government can limit or burden a fundamental right if it shows a compelling state interest in doing so.

Second, the hypothesis.

Assume that a senator from California has introduced legislation that penalizes immigrants who give birth to more than two children in the United States. The penalty proposed by the senator is a permanent bar to citizenship for the parents. (Immigrants who have become citizens before having a third child are not subject to any penalty.)

Third, the assignment.

You are the speech writer for a very popular senator in another state who has served in the U.S. Senate for several decades. Your senator is about to retire. He is not concerned about getting re-elected. He is concerned about the impact of population growth on poverty, the environment, infrastructure, and social services. But he’s also concerned about preserving basic civil liberties. He is not sure how he stands on the proposed bill. He has asked you to draft a speech that he will give on the floor of the U.S. Senate when the bill is up for debate.

The issue he wishes to address is simply this: should a penalty of any kind be levied on immigrants who have more children than is desirable? Is there, or is there not, a compelling state interest in limiting the right of procreation as proposed by the above bill? You are free to write a speech in favor of the bill, or against it.

This is not an argument before a court. Please, no legal citations.

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