Children On The Ballot: Birthright Citizenship

Children of Immigrants
Children on the Ballot

Despite Election Day being 14 months away, the 2016 election cycle is upon us. Both Democrat and Republican candidates for president are already traveling around the country campaigning, fundraising, and discussing policy issues with each other, the media, and the public. They are soon to be joined by candidates for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives at the federal level, candidates for governor and state legislative bodies, and those seeking office at the local level, including mayoral, county and city council, and school board candidates.

As these conversations are occurring, the candidates, the media, and the public must be informed and knowledgeable about the important policy issues facing children. As adults, we have a responsibility to speak out, be informed, make decisions, and advocate on their behalf.

At First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC), our goal will be to proactively share information with candidates, the media, and the public about the range of policy issues of importance to children and to be responsive with rapid analysis related to policy positions – both good and bad – that are raised in the campaigns.

This blog will be the first of many in a series we are calling “Children On The Ballot” by FFCC staff that will highlight important children’s issues that are either in the news or that are not being covered and debated but should be in the election cycle.

We will begin with one issue – birthright citizenship – that has been raised repeatedly in the presidential campaign and highlight how the changes that are being proposed would have negative consequences for children.

Birthright Citizenship

In 1868, the United States enacted the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The first sentence reads: “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 amendment overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case, which, as PBS says, “decided that all people of African ancestry – slaves as well as those who were free – could never become citizens of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court.” Since passage of the 14th Amendment and its citizenship clause, all children born in this country have obtained automatic citizenship – known as birthright citizenship.

Every few years, there are efforts to overturn or modify birthright citizenship so that the children born to undocumented immigrants would be specifically denied citizenship. In the current campaign for president, Donald Trump brought this issue to the forefront when he expressed support for ending birthright citizenship.

Unfortunately for children, a number of the Republican candidates for president, including Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal have also expressed support for ending birthright citizenship with the most likely route necessitating an amendment to the Constitution.

Others, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, on the Democratic side have taken the position that birthright citizenship should not be changed and that the immigration debate should focus on other matters.

Regardless of the positions they have taken, this debate has largely ignored a key but important fact, which is that the only group that would face negative consequences from such a change would be children.

At FFCC and the Center for the Children of Immigrants at First Focus, we have highlighted the enormous problems that repeal of birthright citizenship would pose to our nation’s children. As Wendy Cervantes explains in a fact sheet on the issue for First Focus:

It is both a dangerous and misguided notion to amend
 the Constitution in order to punish babies simply
because of who their parents are. A repeal or restriction
 of birthright citizenship would not only undermine our
 American tradition of fairness and equality, but it would 
also directly harm one specific population: millions of innocent children.

And, as attorney Margaret O. Stock writes in a paper entitled “Is Birthright Citizenship Good for America?” for the Cato Journal:

The change would create a large class of stateless children who are born and raised in the United States but who do not have strong ties to any other nation. Some will voluntarily leave the United States as children or perhaps upon reaching adulthood. Some will be deported (at taxpayer expense). Those of the group who stay in the United States will have the right to attend public school through the end of high school, but upon graduating, they won’t be eligible to join the U.S. military, get jobs, run for political office, contribute to Social Security, purchase health insurance, or do a myriad of other mundane daily activities that young American citizens do – and which keeps the U.S. economy going.

The following are a list of resources for those seeking more information on the issue:

Other important resources include: