Birthright Citizenship at Risk
Wendy Cervantes (Former Staff)Children of Immigrants Racial Equity
While the new members of the 112th Congress were being sworn in to office today, a small group of Republican state legislators held a press conference here in Washington calling for the end of birthright citizenship— the right for all children born on U.S. soil to be considered citizens under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Two suggested types of legislative approaches were unveiled at the press conference, both to be introduced in at least 20 different states (though there was mention of the agreement of 40). The first would redefine the definition of “state citizenship” to require a child to have at least one documented parent to become a citizen. The second is what The Washington Post referred to as “a more direct challenge to the authority of the federal government” by creating a state compact to ask Congress to revise the Constitution to require a child to have at least one documented parent.
After the election this past November, we discussed our concerns surrounding the potential resurfacing of this issue with a newly empowered Republican majority. And, clearly, members of the Grand Ole Party at both the state and federal level have wasted no time getting down to business. As The Wall Street Journal noted today (and I’m paraphrasing), what’s perhaps most fascinating about these proposals to rewrite citizenship law on the state level is that they are completely unconstitutional. There’s no disputing it. This type of legislation will quite likely head directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, and if history is to repeat itself, the court will side with the inalienable rights of our children.
And, yet, perhaps that’s the entire purpose of all this state level peacocking and political grandstanding. Make enough noise in order to convince federal lawmakers to tackle the 14th Amendment in the House of Representatives. Let us not forget, the topic of birthright citizenship has been far from immune to our members of Congress. Both Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Steve King (R-IA) have made ending birthright citizenship a pet issue, with King, now chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, promising to introduce a bill this Congress. Of course, we also have Senators like Lindsay Graham (R-SC) who over the summer took to advocating against birthright citizenship.
In short, the new political climate for children’s rights is looking dicey. We need to remind our legislators that both American history and legal interpretation demonstrate that the 14th Amendment has been an important facet to safeguarding civil rights, and a beacon of hope against past and present discrimination against children of color. Additionally, any type of repeal of birthright citizenship would actually mark the first time that the U.S. Constitution was amended to limit civil rights rather than to protect them.
There are countless reasons why preserving the 14th Amendment is important for all of America’s children, and each one of them is worth fighting for. We must remember, and remind our legislators, that all children are born equal, and that every child deserves the fundamental rights and protections necessary to grow and thrive.
For more information on preserving birthright citizenship, check out First Focus’s Fact Sheet: “All Children Born Equal: Preserving Birthright Citizenship for America’s Children”