Should children born to illegal immigrants automatically become U.S. citizens?
By Trish LaMonte
The Syracuse Post-Standard, August 9, 2010
The United States is one of the few countries that grants citizenship to anyone born in the country, based on the 14th Amendment.
Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham said he is considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would change the existing law, so that children born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. do not automatically become citizens.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and several other top Republicans have since spoken out in support of discussions on the possibility revising the 14th Amendment.
On NBC's 'Meet the Press' on Sunday, Boehner said 'birthright citizenship' encourages illegal immigration.
'I do think that it's time for us to secure our borders and enforce the law and allow this conversation about the 14th Amendment to continue,' Boehner told host David Gregory. 'In certain parts of our country, clearly our schools, our hospitals are being overrun by illegal immigrants — a lot of whom came here just so their children could become U.S. citizens.'
But Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Washington Post the battle over so-called 'anchor babies' isn't worth it.
'The energy spent on ending birthright citizenship might be better spent reducing illegal immigration through a commitment to immigration law enforcement generally. If illegal immigration is ended, the problem of birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens disappears,' Feere said.
Citizenship as birthright is challenged in immigration debate
By Sandhya Somashekhar
The Austin American-Statesman, August 7, 2010
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says America faces a growing foreign threat: illegal immigrants and tourists who come here for the express purpose of giving birth so their children get citizenship.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a few other top Republicans have jumped on the issue and called for hearings.
'We need to have hearings. We need to consult constitutional scholars and study what the implications are,' Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said last week. 'We need to tread carefully in this area, because we would be changing, frankly, settled law.'
The senators said their concerns arose from recent reports of a burgeoning 'birth tourism' industry, which helps expectant mothers travel to the United States to deliver their babies. They also said that birthright citizenship, which is granted by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, provides an incentive for people to enter the country illegally.
But even some of the most vocal critics of the country's immigration laws are skeptical of the efforts to change the 14th Amendment, a move they say is emotionally charged because it affects children and families.
'We don't think that it is worth the political capital to initiate a debate on this issue,' said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that backs stricter immigration policies. 'The energy spent on ending birthright citizenship might be better spent reducing illegal immigration through a commitment to immigration law enforcement generally. If illegal immigration is ended, the problem of birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens disappears.'
On Fox News late last month, Graham said he might propose a constitutional amendment because birthright citizenship has become a magnet for illegal immigration. 'To have a child in America, they cross the border, go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child is automatically an American citizen,' he said. 'That shouldn't be the case.'
Amending the Constitution is a difficult task. Some who support curbing birthright citizenship argue that the 14th Amendment has been misinterpreted and that the issue could be dealt with more simply by passing a law. Opponents of birthright citizenship say the amendment couldn't apply to illegal immigrants because there was no illegal immigration when it was adopted in 1868 to ensure the citizenship of the American-born children of freed slaves.
Groups that study immigration trends say the number of 'birth tourists' to the United States is relatively small, perhaps a few thousand a year. The number of U.S. citizens born to illegal immigrant parents is thought to be much higher; there were about 4 million such children living in the U.S. in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
'This is a symptom of the larger problem of illegal immigration in this country,' said Rosemary Jenks, director of governmental relations for NumbersUSA, the leading group opposed to birthright citizenship. 'It is an important issue. This is part of our identity as a nation, and we're the only industrialized country that has not changed its birthright citizenship laws.'
Graham's proposal revived a popular misunderstanding: In the often heated debate, pundits refer to 'anchor babies,' and talk show callers express frustration that pregnant women could cross the border from Mexico illegally, then rely on their U.S. citizen newborns to put them immediately on a path to citizenship. But under immigration law, U.S. citizen children must wait until they are 21 years old to apply for legal residency for their parents.
Immigrant rights advocates say that birthright citizenship is beneficial to American society because it promotes assimilation and that revoking that right could create generations of residents who reside in the country illegally.
'It's puzzling that they would propose this, because it would add to the undocumented population,' said Bill Hing, a University of San Francisco School of Law professor who has represented undocumented immigrants. 'I really think they lose sight of who these children are and what they become. … They very quickly become assimilated.'