Illegal immigration: Can states win fight against 'birthright citizenship'?
Several state lawmakers want to make 'birthright citizenship' – the guarantee that all children born in the US are citizens – the next front against illegal immigration. It could be a tough battle.
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Yet she and others also suggest that birthright citizenship could be a difficult target for conservatives. The 14th Amendment is among the clearest passages of the Constitution, some legal experts say. It is fraught with racial sensitivities, given that it was passed after the Civil War to redress some of the injustices of slavery. And it is, some say, a symbol of the very American exceptionalism that conservatives value.Skip to next paragraph
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"Is birthplace citizenship an important and longstanding feature of American exceptionalism, or is it not?” Professor Wilson asks.
The 'anchor baby' debate
Hispanic officials argue that it is. “The Constitution’s statement that anyone born in the US is a citizen is fundamental to our nation,” says Rosalind Gold, senior analyst for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). “It is one of the core principles of US democracy that makes us distinct.”
Birthright citizenship is a foundation stone of America's historic ability to assimilate immigrants and have them become productive members of the economy and society, immigrants-rights groups say.
But critics suggest that America is being overrun. "Having an estimated 340,000 children – roughly the population of St. Louis – born each year to illegal aliens or ‘birth tourists’ calls into question the whole concept of what citizenship really means," says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group which wants to restrict immigration.
The lawmakers taking aim at birthright citizenship have produced two model measures that could be introduced in state legislatures. One would create a version of "state citizenship" that would require at least one parent to be a citizen. The other would call for the issuance of a distinctive birth certificate for children whose parents could not demonstrate legal immigration status. The lawmakers said that at least 14 states will consider the measures.
States are struggling to bear the costs of "anchor babies" – the term for children born in the US allegedly to anchor temporary or illegal immigrants in the country – FAIR's Mr. Mehlman says. It is "a legitimate state issue because, as US citizens, these kids are legally entitled to all the benefits the states have to offer – at great expense to those states,” he says.
What does the 14th Amendment say?
The wording of the 14th Amendment suggests that states could have a right to do this, Mehlman adds. The 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."
Mehlman says: "If the framers had meant that anyone who was simply born on US soil or naturalized here was a citizen, they would not have included the clause 'and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.' "