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
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
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. …