Republican Attack on Birthright Citizenship

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There are three ways to become a citizen of the United States. You can be a naturalized American citizen; where a foreign born individual meets several requirements and then is granted citizenship. If you are born outside of the United States but at least one of your parents is a United States citizen then you can become a citizen through Jus Sanguinis (Right of Blood). The most common way to become a United States citizen is through Jus Soli (Right of Birthplace), which was codified by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, there is now a movement to repeal the 14th Amendment, and remove the right of individuals born within the United States borders to automatically become citizens.

During times of economic recession, it is often “the other” that is blamed for the hardships of the many. During the Great Recession “the other” has taken many different forms, but one of the most common is undocumented immigrants. A common refrain is that undocumented immigrants “take American jobs,” even though economic studies have shown that undocumented immigrants actually have a positive impact on the native workforce. Not to mention that American corporations have done far more damage to the American worker through outsourcing than undocumented workers ever could have done. The economic situation has lead to an atmosphere of hate, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the rising tide of hate towards Latinos and the increasing activity of nativists lobbies and organizations.

Despite their reverence of the United States Constitution, which often times border on worship, prominent Republican leaders have called for the repeal of the 14th Amendment. Politico reported that Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and David Vitter of Louisiana proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would put new limits on citizenship guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. The proposal would remove Jus Soli from anyone who is born in the United States whose parents are not citizens, legal permanent resident or active duty military members. In a statement Vitter said that the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country is escalating because of “children of illegal aliens born in the U.S. are granted automatic citizenship,” and that “closing this loophole will not prevent them from becoming citizens, but will ensure that they have to go through the same process as anyone else who wants to become an American citizen.”

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Senator Vitter is long on rhetoric but short on facts. Research shows that undocumented immigrants entering the United States has actually decreased, there is absolutely no proof of undocumented immigrants immigrating to the United States to give birth, or that removing Jus Soli would not do anything to decrease the number of undocumented immigrants in or migrating to the United States. Others have used similar rhetoric to attempt and marginalize the effect of the 14th Amendment. The “allegiance” red herring, misinterpreting the exception for foreign diplomats as an exception for all foreigners, and the ridiculous “consent” theory have all been used to attempt to reinterpret the 14th Amendment. Despite these attacks, the Supreme Court has made precedent setting ruling after ruling after ruling establishing a firm interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

This is not only taking place on the national stage, but lawmakers on the state level are also attacking the 14th Amendment. While unsurprisingly Arizona Republicans have introduced legislation to challenge Jus Soli, Texas lawmakers are also moving to challenge it as well. State Representative Leo Berman, a Republican from Tyler, has filed legislation to effectively create a second class status for child born of immigrants (undocumented or authorized) in Texas. House Bill 292 would require the local registrar to “issue a temporary report of alien birth” if the child is born to “a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.” This is the same Leo Berman who supports an Arizona style anti-immigration bill, filed a bill to ban “religious or cultural law,” and filed a bill require presidential candidates to provide “the original birth certificate indicating that the person is a natural-born United States citizen” to the Texas secretary of state.” This is the same Leo Berman whose conspiracy theories was thoroughly debunked by Anderson Cooper during a cringe worthy interview on CNN.

After taking a look at this proposal the only conclusion that can be made is that this is pure politics. Republicans are simply using this as a wedge issue to pander to the far right conservative base. Any attempt to pass legislation on the stat level to undermine Jus Soli would be stricken down by the courts as unconstitutional. It would be a near impossible task to attempt to amend the Constitution, which would be required because any legislation passed by Congress would also be stricken down by the courts. Even if birthright citizenship were somehow repealed, it would create a logistical nightmare. The Texas Tribune reports that lawmakers have no idea how a repeal would affect immigration policy. In fact the Tribune reports that not only would it cause a mess, but it would cost billions of dollars.

This is about Republicans abandoning principles for politics. As Marshall Fitz from the Center for American Progress puts it, “Conservatives talk in soaring terms about freedom, but freedom emanates from American soil. No one chooses where she or he is born so our Constitution endows children born on our soil with an entitlement of their own, delinked from their family's status or actions. We find it unthinkable as a nation to hold children responsible for their parents' actions. Yet conservatives' rush to eliminate birthright citizenship would do just that, and it puts them squarely outside the American tradition.”

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