Feature

Immigration: Reconsidering the ‘birthright’

A fringe campaign to amend the 14th Amendment has been taken up by some leading Republicans.

“I thought our politics could not get worse,” said E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post. But then leading Republicans last week got behind what had been a fringe campaign to amend the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, to remove the guarantee of citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is usually a moderate Republican, last week called for hearings on the birthright guarantee because, he declared, illegal immigrants “come here to drop a child.” Sen. John McCain and other GOP lawmakers piled on, saying something had to be done about “anchor babies”—children whom immigrants allegedly produce to “anchor” themselves to the welfare state. Statistics show that this is a myth, said Robin Templeton in The Nation. “Far from anchoring their parents to U.S. soil, many children born to undocumented immigrants are seeing them deported.” Having children here provides no protection to any immigrant caught up in a dragnet or arrested for a minor crime.
 
What statistics also show, said Bruce McQuain in The Washington Examiner, is that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants have babies in the U.S. every year. These new citizens are often poor, and become public burdens. Under those circumstances, the notion that the 14th Amendment can’t even be debated is absurd. The clause—enacted in 1868 to protect freed slaves—states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens …” This was long before millions of people began streaming over our borders illegally; Congress clearly didn’t intend the amendment to cover their offspring. Yet now we’re told that even raising this issue makes you a bigot.
 
It might also make you a cynical politician, trolling for votes, said Garrett Epps in TheAtlantic.com. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support of both houses of Congress and approval of 75 percent of the states, so there is zero chance the 14th Amendment will be rewritten. As with previous movements to pass constitutional amendments banning school busing and flag burning, we’re witnessing a “cynical election-year ploy” aimed at exciting the conservative base—in this case, by telling Hispanic children, “We don’t like your kind around here.” It’s an old story, said Matthew Yglesias in The Washington Post. Every time the economy tanks and Americans worry about their jobs and their futures, we see “a groundswell of hostility toward outsiders.” Welcome to “our summer of fear.”

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