New Attacks on Birthright Citizenship

Recently, the somewhat repugnant term “anchor babies” has entered the immigration debate, as certain conservatives call for a reassessment of the 14th Amendment, claiming it wrongly protects the children of undocumented immigrants. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in a surprisingly radical move on his part, appeared on Fox News on July 28th explaining a new tactic dubbed “drop and leave,” in which undocumented mothers come to the U.S. explicitly to have a child. As a result of this process, the baby would be granted American citizenship, thus providing an “anchor” with which the parents could later use to gain legal residence themselves.

Sen. Graham, along with former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), was once a staunch Republican promoter of comprehensive immigration reform who sought to provide undocumented residents with legal pathways towards citizenship. Now both, together with other prominent conservatives such as Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have taken a leap to the far right in attacking the citizenship clause of the Constitution.

Many anti-immigration activists have claimed that the United States is outdated in providing birthright citizenship. Glenn Beck of Fox News and Bob Dane of FAIR have claimed, respectively, that the U.S. is “the only country in the world” or at least the only “western country” where birthright guarantees citizenship. Neither is true: the U.S. is among 33 other countries—including Canada—that practice jus soli (grant birthright citizenship).

“Anchor babies” have been mentioned ominously in connection not only to illegal immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, but also to affluent “birth tourists” and supposed terrorist organizations. The suggestion that the U.S. revise the 14th amendment is merely a ploy by conservatives to further anger the American public regarding immigration that conveniently comes just in time for the midterm elections, and has little chance of being seriously considered. Although undocumented immigrants do have children in the U.S.—which now account for 8% of all births in the U.S.—this idea of “drop and leave” is overt fear-mongering. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly dealt with the wording of the 14th Amendment that conservatives are questioning, meaning that in order for the U.S. to effect a change in birthright citizenship policy, the amendment must be changed or past Supreme Court decisions must be overturned; both are extremely unlikely. However, this new discussion about “anchor babies” illustrates, as Julia Preston of The New York Times states, a “rightward shift in the immigration debate.”

The 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment was promulgated in 1868 to ensure the rights of minority groups, specifically those of the thousands of African-Americans that had been freed from slavery during and after the Civil War. The Amendment includes multiple clauses such as the right to equal protection, due process, and the now-debated citizenship clause. This provision states that “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 clause was created shortly after the 1866 Civil Rights Act to ensure that birthright citizenship was constitutionally protected.

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