Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Illegal Immigration: Can States Win Fight against 'Birthright Citizenship'?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Illegal Immigration: Can States Win Fight against 'Birthright Citizenship'?

Article excerpt

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.

As Arizona's controversial illegal immigration law remains stuck in legal limbo, a group of lawmakers from five states has pledged to launch another offensive against illegal immigration that, legal experts say, could run afoul of the Constitution.

Earlier this week, state legislators from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina said they were beginning a push to have as many states as possible pass measures that to deny citizenship rights to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

Most legal experts agree that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizenship to any person born in the US, regardless of parentage. But these lawmakers seek to follow in the steps of the Arizona immigration law, which ignited a national conversation on illegal immigration even though it could be declared unconstitutional by the courts. Similarly, the lawmakers hope to create a public groundswell against "birthright citizenship," forcing Congress to act.

"We are here to send a very public message to Congress," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) at a press conference Tuesday. "We want to bring an end to the illegal-alien invasion that is having such a negative impact on our states."

Targeting birthright citizenship has clear economic and political appeal - "economic, since every state is facing severe budget shortfalls, [and] political, since birthplace citizenship does not require consent, and therefore does not demand complete, political allegiance to the US," says Catherine Wilson, an immigration specialist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

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.

"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. …

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