Reframing the Birthright Citizenship Debate with Facts

Written by on August 13, 2010 in Birthright Citizenship with 2 Comments

In the latest flame war on immigration, some politicians are targeting the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. They blithely state time and time again that undocumented immigrants are flooding the border to have their children in the U.S., thereby guaranteeing them citizenship. Their solution to this supposed “baby dropping epidemic” is amending the U.S. Constitution by repealing the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that, with very few exceptions, all persons born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, regardless of the immigration status of their parents. Sadly, however, their arguments are thin, the facts misrepresented and their attempts at reelection using get-tough on immigration platforms even thinner. When facts don’t matter and vilifying immigrants is par for the course, attacking U.S. citizen children probably seems like a winning reelection strategy.

In a recent Fox News interview, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reiterated the flawed conservative argument for ending birthright citizenship:

“People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child, it’s called drop and leave,” Graham said. “To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, they have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people for all the wrong reasons,” he added.

While some conservatives have taken a step back and challenged attacks on the Fourteenth Amendment, others have punted the argument into left field…the crazy end of left field. Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle went on CNN this week and claimed that pregnant women are coming to America to give birth, then raise their babies as terrorists. You heard me, terrorists. When asked for proof, she mentioned the FBI and then refused to give a source. Surprise.

In fact, misrepresenting the facts has become par for the course in the immigration debate. The Pew Hispanic Center recently released a report which estimated that 340,000 of the 4.3 million children born in the United States in 2008 had at least one unauthorized parent. The “at least one unauthorized parent” conditional, however, was only clarified in a footnote which read, “a child has unauthorized parents if either parent is unauthorized: a child has U.S.-born parents if all identified parents are U.S. born,” meaning that this figure includes families in which one parent is unauthorized and the other a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant (mixed-status households). But that footnote makes a huge difference when determining how many children would be affected by a change to the Fourteenth Amendment. Numerous news articles ran with the Pew report’s estimate as though both parents were undocumented.

The truth is that majority of immigrants come to the U.S. to work, to reunite with their families, or to flee persecution—not to have children. Some immigrants do, in fact, have children in the U.S. and some of those families are mixed status families, but suggesting that undocumented immigrants anchor themselves here through childbirth is just false. As Senator John Kerry (D-MA) pointed out in a recent editorial, undocumented parents with U.S.-born children have to wait decades to apply for family-sponsored citizenship:

There is no epidemic of people “flying in” just to have their children born as U.S. citizens — and every senator knows it. Just as they know it takes more than two decades for a child born in America to sponsor anyone for immigration — which means no back door for undocumented parents to become citizens on the sly.

Denying birthright citizenship is not a solution to illegal immigration—it will not discourage unauthorized immigrants from coming to the U.S., and it will not encourage those already here to leave. Furthermore, it would force all American parents—not just immigrants—to prove the citizenship of their children through a cumbersome and expensive bureaucratic process. But conservative fear-mongers would rather rally their troops with false messaging and mischaracterizations than actually solve our immigration problem.

Photo by Eole

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  • http://nil John Crow

    The Pew Foundation has not followed its usual careful publication record on public issues. Their study and assertion that children of illegal aliens number so and so. What the investigators overlooked or ignored, was that numerous illegal aliens are married to legal aliens or citizens — the baby is a US citizen. Sloppiness on this is very bad form — the figure they do publicize is inaccurate and misleading. The public and the press take Pew Foundation pronouncements are serious. They should follow their careful best practices and they didn’t on this occasion.

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