Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Overthrow the 14th Amendment?

THE FIRST THING you should know about the call to revoke automatic citizenship to babies born here to illegal immigrants is that it's not going to happen.

Not to mention that it's a terrible idea, a perfect example of "destroying a village to save it," except this time it's a nation's cohesion and stability that would be damaged, without being saved from the problems caused by illegal immigration.

Several Republican senators are calling for hearings to consider changing longstanding U.S. policy that anyone born in the United States is a citizen. In recent days, they have raised the specter of hordes of pregnant unauthorized immigrants invading the United States with the intention of having babies here - so-called "anchor babies," to provide them an anchor to stay in the country and gain legal status.

But changing the "birthright citizen" policy would require a new interpretation of the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to ensure citizenship to freed slaves and their descendants.

It says in part: "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." Pretty straightforward and that's how the courts have interpreted it for more than a century. So a law passed by Congress that says otherwise - and a 2009 bill in the U.S. House of Representatives garnered 109 sponsors - would almost certainly be declared unconstitutional.

Even more practically absurd is the notion of repealing and modifying the 14th Amendment: It takes a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and then ratification of three-quarters of the states. Republicans would have to pick up 100 House seats and 26 Senate seats to win it on a straight party vote. Even then, any 13 states could block it by just saying no.

(Does anyone else see the irony of so-called defenders of the Constitution hell-bent on changing it when it doesn't suit their interests?)

Just say it could happen: Denying "birthright" citizenship would have far-ranging negative consequences on everyone, even those who can trace their citizenship back several generations - while not dealing with many of the serious problems connected to illegal immigration.

For one thing, having a baby here is a highly inefficient way for an immigrant to gain legal status: A mother must wait 10 years before being allowed to claim that deporting her would be an extreme hardship to her child. Once a child is 21, he or she could sponsor the parents for immigration, but that would require the parents to return to their host country for 10 years.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center did find that 3.8 million unauthorized immigrants have at least one child who is a U.S. citizen, but experts quoted by Politifact.com say that evidence suggests that most immigrants come here primarily to work - legally or illegally.

Consider the huge new bureaucracy that would have to be created to enforce the new law: The parents of every new baby in the United States would have to prove their status. And what happens to children born to illegal immigrants who are denied citizenship? They are essentially stateless - disenfranchised and easily discriminated against, a permanent underclass without a stake in society.

So it wouldn't solve the problem and it's not going to happen. What's going on here?

That's obvious: The ramped-up debate on birthright citizenship is a great opportunity to stoke already-high anti-immigrant feeling. We - citizens or not - deserve better from our leaders. *

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