Should birthright citizenship be denied for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants?
If you are born in the United States, you are automatically a citizen, a guarantee of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that has come to be known as “birthright citizenship.” A number of Republican lawmakers are questioning that right in seeking to deny automatic citizenship to American-born children of illegal immigrants as a way to contain illegal immigration. The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group, counted 4 million American-born children with at least one parent who was in the United States illegally in 2008. Eight percent of babies born in the United States that year had at least one undocumented immigrant parent.
The 14h Amendment’s citizenship clause states: “All 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.” The purpose of the clause was to guarantee citizenship to freed slaves and their descendants after the Civil War. Those who challenge birthright citizenship argue that illegal immigrants are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and so neither are their American-born children; these children, they argue, cannot therefore automatically become citizens. Since there was no such thing as an illegal immigrant at the time of the amendment’s adoption — immigration was not restricted or regulated back then — opponents also contend that the amendment does not apply to illegal immigrants.
|The citizenship clause is just one part of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified after the Civil War to deal with civil rights issues when slavery ended. The amendment contains three limitations on state power that greatly expanded the reach of the Constitution: States shall not violate citizens’ privileges or immunities or deprive anyone of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and must guarantee all persons equal protections under the law
The Supreme Court, however, has upheld the right to birthright citizenship throughout history, granting citizenship to all people born here, except to children of foreign diplomats and Native American sovereign tribes. Supporters of birthright citizenship consider it an important element of the American ethos that prizes welcoming and assimilating diverse people.
Three paths to modifying or repealing birthright citizenship have been proposed:
1) Legislate change at the federal level: Under the proposed Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009, to be considered a citizen, a child must have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident or an undocumented immigrant serving in the military. Sponsored by 93 Republicans and two Democrats in House, the bill has been sitting in subcommittee, and experts say it is unlikely to survive court challenges if it becomes law.
2) Amend the Constitution to revoke birthright citizenship: Sen. Lindsey Graham and other leading Republicans have proposed hearings on an amendment. But amending the Constitution is an extremely difficult process.
3) Get the Supreme Court to change its interpretation of the 14th Amendment: State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a coalition of Republican lawmakers from 15 states, is drafting state legislation that will deny citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants, possibly by barring the issuance of birth certificates. Birth certificates are under state authority, but issues of citizenship fall under federal jurisdiction, and so a change in state law that clashes with federal law will likely lead to lawsuits. Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh said that is precisely the intention: provoke lawsuits that will end with the Supreme Court reexamining the 14th Amendment.
Opponents of birthright citizenship argue that illegal immigrants come to the United States to give birth to a child – a so-called “anchor baby” – as a way of gaining quick access for themselves to citizenship. However, supporters contend that in fact, the law requires these children to wait until they are 21 to petition for legal residency status for their parents.
A study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, observes that an end to birthright citizenship would increase the illegal immigration population, not reduce it, leading to “the establishment of a permanent class of undocumented workers.” The study predicts that the number of unauthorized immigrants could swell from 11 million to between 16 and 24 million by 2050, depending on how restrictive new laws would be.
What do you think?
Does birthright citizenship apply to the American-born children of illegal immigrants? What do you think of efforts to deny automatic citizenship to these children? How would denying them citizenship affect illegal immigration in the future? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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