Congress Debates Birthright Citizenship
Congress is set to debate whether children of illegal immigrants should be U.S. citizens.
A proposal to change long-standing federal policy and deny citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil ran aground this month in Congress, but it is sure to resurface Ã¢€” kindling bitter debate even if it fails to become law. At issue is Ã¢€œbirthright citizenshipÃ¢€ Ã¢€” provided for since the ConstitutionÃ¢€™s 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Section 1 of that amendment, drafted with freed slaves in mind, says: Ã¢€œAll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.Ã¢€
Some conservatives in Congress, as well as advocacy groups seeking to crack down on illegal immigration, say the amendment has been misapplied over the years, that it was never intended to grant citizenship automatically to babies of illegal immigrants. Thus they contend that federal legislation, rather than a difficult-to-achieve constitutional amendment, would be sufficient to end birthright citizenship.
With more than 70 co-sponsors, Georgia Republican Rep. Nathan Deal tried to include a revocation of birthright citizenship in an immigration bill passed by the House in mid-December. GOP House leaders did not let the proposal come to a vote. Ã¢€œMost Americans feel it doesnÃ¢€™t make any sense for people to come into the country illegally, give birth and have a new U.S. citizen,Ã¢€ said Ira Mehlman of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which backs DealÃ¢€™s proposal. Ã¢€œBut the advocates for illegal immigrants will make a fuss; theyÃ¢€™ll claim youÃ¢€™re punishing the children, and I suspect the leadership doesnÃ¢€™t want to deal with that.Ã¢€ Deal has said he will continue pushing the issue, describing birthright citizenship as Ã¢€œa huge magnetÃ¢€ attracting illegal immigrants. He cited estimates Ã¢€” challenged by immigrant advocates Ã¢€” that roughly 10 percent of births in the United States, or close to 400,000 a year, are babies born to illegal immigrants.
According to a survey last month by Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm, 49 percent of Americans favor ending birthright citizenship, and 41 percent favor keeping it. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Some critics of current policy refer to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants as Ã¢€œanchor babiesÃ¢€ because Ã¢€” when they reach adulthood Ã¢€” they can sponsor their parents for legal permanent residency. Immigrants-rights groups say the number of such cases is smaller than critics allege, but authoritative statistics are scarce.
The “anchor baby” issue is rather silly; people being granted citizenship through the formal process are decidedly not the problem. It does, however, seem unfair that tens of thousands of people have to wait years to be granted citizenship through proper channels while the children of lawbreakers are immediately entitled to all the rights of citizenship. The policy, in effect, rewards people for crime. Indeed, it incentivizes crime given how much better off a poor baby from a Mexican border town will be if born a couple miles north.
Steve Benen is almost certainly right, though, that simple legislation is a non-starter on this issue. While the intent of those who wrote the 14th Amendment had nothing to do with immigration, illegal or otherwise, both the plain meaning of its language and the case law surrounding it make it clear that simply being born in the United States makes one a citizen.