Harming Children: The New GOP Campaign Slogan?

Child Rights
Children of Immigrants

Over the past week, several GOP presidential hopefuls have echoed the Trump call to overturn the Fourteenth Amendment and end the nation’s birthright citizenship policy. As an advocate for children, I find it simply outrageous that so many have been quick to support not only one of Trump’s most extreme positions on immigration, but the one position that most directly harms children. It’s true that several of Trump’s other immigration proposals would also negatively impact children by tearing families apart and pushing families into poverty, such as attempting to deport all undocumented immigrants and trying to intercept remittances that immigrants send home. But repealing birthright citizenship and deporting millions of U.S.-born citizen children already living here will directly harm only one specific population: our nation’s children.

First Focus has been committed to defending birthright citizenship as a fundamental constitutional right for children, ensuring that every child born in our country receives the basic rights afforded to U.S. citizens. In a new fact sheet released by First Focus today, we highlight the consequences for children should birthright citizenship be repealed. By granting citizenship at birth, children are able to immediately access the protections and resources they need. Overturning the policy would mean that some babies would have to wait to access certain benefits or be altogether denied, which could have long-term implications for their health and development. And because there is no national registry in the U.S., the burden of providing proof of citizenship would fall on all families, not just immigrant families. Not surprisingly, those that would face the biggest challenges in obtaining the required documentation would be low-income families and single-headed households. Impacted children would be both undocumented and stateless, with no place to legally call home. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that the number of undocumented children in the United States would double by 2050 should birthright citizenship be eliminated. These are children who would be relegated to a second-class, vulnerable to exploitation and unable to legally join the workforce.

Projected Percentage of Children Who Would Be Unauthorized if Birthright Citizenship Were Repealed

It’s also very important to note that any restriction to birthright citizenship would undermine the civil rights of our children, putting us a step backward on fighting racial inequities. Ratified in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment is one of the longest-standing pillars of the U.S. Constitution, one rooted in our American values of fairness and equality. In spite of other external factors out of their control, babies born on U.S. soil essentially start off life with the same rights and access to critical supports. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was a deliberate action in the wake of the Civil War to overturn the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which had previously denied citizenship to all U.S.-born children of African-American slaves. Nearly 30 years later in 1898, the language of the Citizenship Clause was examined again in the Supreme Court, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. That particular case involved a U.S.-born citizen of Chinese parents, named Wong Kim Ark, who had been denied re-entry to the United States after traveling abroad. He fought to have has citizenship recognized despite recent passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act and heavy anti-Chinese sentiment in the country at the time. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, concluding that children of immigrants born in the United States are also entitled to citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment.

A documentary film released earlier this year entitled 14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark, and Vanessa Lopez follows the historical trajectory of the Fourteenth Amendment and examines the xenophobic sentiment against communities of color and immigrants since the Citizenship Clause’s enactment. Vanessa Lopez, the young daughter of Mexican immigrants, is one of the featured children in the film. She represents the estimated 4.5 million U.S.-born children currently living in a mixed-status family with at least one undocumented parent. In the film, she talks and laughs with her fellow classmates about what it means to be a citizen, and proudly describes herself as both American and Mexican. She is bilingual and already volunteers her time to help organize her community. When asked how she would feel if her grandparents were deported, she weeps and is unable to answer the question. While Vanessa is growing up in the United States nearly a century and a half after the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause, her citizenship is still made possible by the same guiding principles shielding babies born in the United States from the prejudices of that impacted Dred Scott and Wong Kim Ark. And yet, not only would Trump’s immigration proposal impact all children born in the United States in the future, but his proposal would also mean that Vanessa and millions other like her would have to be deported from the country they know and love.

In addition to undermining civil rights, taking a step backward on closing racial disparities is bad for our country. By 2050, it is expected that there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority in the United States, and this change is happening most rapidly among the child population. In fact, the U.S. Census projects that children of color will be the majority of the U.S. child population by 2018, and in 2014 the majority of children under five were already made up of children of color. The children of immigrants are a critical part of this demographic shift, and it is in our national best interest that we maximize on their human capital. Stripping children of their most fundamental rights from the moment they are born will put them at a life-ling disadvantage and prevent them from contributing to our future workforce. And deporting millions of U.S.-born children already here, whose education we’ve already invested in, would be a severe hit on our American economy.

Ultimately, birthright citizenship is one of the many American traditions that, dare I say it, “make America great.” Any proposal to restrict this cornerstone of our U.S. Constitution is an affront to both child rights and civil rights , and both our children and we as a country would pay the price for it. And any presidential candidate who seriously intends to lead our country into a more prosperous future will fight to protect it, not recklessly throw it away.

To learn more about this issue, please read our new fact sheet Birthright Citizenship: A Fundamental Right for America’s Children.

Harming Children: The New GOP Campaign Slogan? Via @First_Focus: http://bit.ly/1Jj42ql
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work of the First Focus Center for the Children of Immigrants. 

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