Facing South

Immigrant rights activists defend 14th Amendment

14th amendment.jpgBy Deirdre Ruscitti, New America Media

The debate over illegal immigration has moved to a new territory: the U.S. Constitution.

Under
the 14th Amendment, U.S. citizenship is granted automatically to nearly
everyone born in the United States, including the children of
undocumented immigrants. (There are a few exceptions, such as the
children of foreign diplomats.) This Constitutionally protected right,
called "birthright citizenship," could be the next frontier for
anti-immigration politicians and activists, who seek to deny citizenship
to the U.S.-children of undocumented immigrants.

The latest
attack on the 14th Amendment came from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who
argued in an interview on Fox News that birth tourism -- parents coming to
the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth to a child and
getting that child U.S. citizenship -- "cheapens American citizenship."
Graham said he supports an overhaul of the laws that govern who gets
U.S. citizenship, the basis of which is the 14th Amendment.

The
non-partisan Immigration Policy Center rejects Graham's views on
birthright citizenship. "We are talking about changing the U.S.
Constitution, the 14th Amendment, the cornerstone of civil rights," said
senior policy analyst Michele Waslin. "Repealing birthright citizenship
would affect every American and every child born in the U.S."

Changing
the rules of citizenship would not only change the rules for the
children of immigrants, but also for the children of citizens, notes
Margaret Stock, an attorney who works with the Immigration Policy
Center. If the 14th Amendment were revoked, a U.S. birth certificate
would no longer be sufficient proof of citizenship, so every child would
have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to show that they
meet all the requirements of citizenship. Such a change could cost
billions of dollars.

"Before we change the rules, we need to do a
cost-benefit analysis here," said Stock. "There's absolutely no
attention being paid to the practicality."

In order to change a
Constitutional amendment, a second amendment must be passed to override
the first one, which can be an incredibly difficult process. Two-thirds
of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures would have to
approve the amendment, a level of consensus that observers say would be
almost impossible to reach on an issue as contentious as immigration.

"It
politically can't be done," said Bill Hing, a professor at the San
Francisco School of Law. "It can't be a serious proposal."

Immigration
experts also note that birth tourism, the process that Lindsey stated
as his motivation, is in fact a rare occurrence.

"There's maybe a
very small group of people who are coming to the U.S. solely to give
birth to a child," said Stock. Changing the Constitution to punish this
small group of people, Stock continued, is an overreaction. "You don't
hit a fly with a sledgehammer," she said.

Birth tourism has
stayed limited, Waslin said, because a child's immigration status has no
immediate effect on the status of the parents. Children who have U.S.
citizenship have to wait until they turn 21 to sponsor their parents for
a Green Card. "It doesn't make much sense to have a child here for
citizenship reasons," she said.

For immigrant rights advocates,
the larger argument against revoking birth citizenship is that it is a
threat to civil rights. They note that the civil rights movement of the
last century and a half has been derived from the 14th Amendment, and to
repeal it would destroy much of our American identity.

"Never
before have we the people amended the Constitution to make it less
egalitarian," said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel of the Constitutional
Accountability Center. "The provision of citizenship by right of birth
was constitutionalized beyond politics and prejudices."

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re: Immigrant rights activists defend 14th Amendment

Are you naive? "Tourist" births? What about the maternity hospitals on the Texas - Mexican border. This is, actually, a serious issue. And here's the "other" side of the story. By requiring verification of parents' citizenship the birth certificate itself could show whether the child is a citizen.