Automatic Citizenship: The 14th Amendment Is Cited as Proof That Anyone Born in the United States Is Automatically Endowed with Citizenship, but That Amendment Was Intended to Prohibit Such an Interpretation and Safeguard the Value of Citizenship
Wolverton, Joe, II, The New American
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value."
--Thomas Paine in The Crisis.
A recent article published at Politico.com asked, "What makes an American?" That question and the implications arising from the many answers being proffered to it have attracted the attention of pundits and politicians since the passage earlier in the year of S.B. 1070 by the Arizona legislature. This controversial measure mandates the enforcement by local and state police of existing federal immigration statutes within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon State.
In the days since the key provisions of S.B. 1070 were enjoined from enforcement by a federal judge, the halls of Congress have sounded with calls from several key GOP Senators for congressional hearings into the 14th Amendment's supposed grant of citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents are illegal aliens. The inelegantly nicknamed "anchor babies" are seen as a crucial battle in the wider war against the invasion of the United States by millions of illegal aliens.
The anchor in "anchor babies" refers to the purported ability of children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents to sponsor those parents in their request for permanent residency in this country. According to the argument, as citizens of the United States, those children have the right to sponsor the immigration efforts of family members seeking legal immigration status.
The lawful ability of American citizens to serve as sponsors to would-be immigrants is not in question. What is in question, however, is whether children born within the sovereign borders of the United States should be endowed with the full panoply of privileges and immunities of which citizens are possessed. This is the crux of the current controversy.
As the number of Senators seeking congressional clarity on the issue contracts and expands daily according to the direction that the winds of electoral politics blow, a recent Rasmussen poll indicated that 67 percent of respondents believes that citizenship should not be automatically conferred upon American-born children of illegals.
On the other hand, there is a significant bloc of support for the unchallenged endowment of citizenship upon the estimated 340,000 anchor babies born in America in 2008. Past, and likely future, Republican presidential nominee Mike Huckabee was for birthright citizenship before he was against it. Lately, he has spoken against the granting of birthright citizenship, although he once famously preached that "you do not punish a child for something the parent did."
With the prickly politics of illegal immigration making such curious bedfellows, the quest for an answer to the question of who is and is not a citizen continues by referring to the Constitution, in particular the 14th Amendment.
The juicy marrow in the bone of contention that is the legal status of illegal immigrants' children is the so-called "citizenship clause" of the 14th Amendment which reads: "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."
The interpretation of that very clause was the question before the Supreme Court in 1898 in the case of U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. In that case, Ark was the child of Chinese immigrants who themselves were subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act then in force (that law prohibited Chinese nationals from immigrating to the United States and from seeking naturalization). Lawyers representing Ark argued that the language of the 14th Amendment granted automatic and irrevocable citizenship to Ark, as he did not fall within any of the exceptions carved out in the amendment.
Lawyers for the United States, on the other hand, disagreed that the 14th Amendment grants automatic citizenship to children based on the accident of the location of their birth--a legal concept known as jus soli. …