There are a lot of myths and untruths circulating about birthright citizenship and the fourteenth amendment. I recently read a great mythbuster published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (I’m a member) that I thought I’d share with you.
Myth: We can easily change the Constitution and eliminate birthright citizenship.
Fact: Wrong. The Fourteenth Amendment is a fundamental piece of American history, law, and values. As Eric Ward of the Center for New Community writes, “For African Americans, the Fourteenth Amendment is a cornerstone for key civil rights laws such as the right to vote, equal access, and protection against job discrimination.”
Attempting to change this amendment and fundamental right is irresponsible. Immigration attorney Margaret Stock adds: Eliminating birthright citizenship would be un-American. Birthright citizenship has been the rule since the dawn of the Republic. We should have a compellingly good reason to eliminate it-one better than frustration with the federal government’s inability to enforce existing immigration laws.
Myth: Denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants would decrease illegal immigration.
Fact: Wrong again. Denying birthright citizenship to children of immigrants would actually increase the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. because babies would be born without status. The myth that immigrants come to the U.S. illegally to give birth to “anchor babies” and obtain legal status is simply not true. Children born in the U.S. have to wait until they’re at least 21 to petition for their parents. Even then there are many legal obstacles to getting a green card for their parents. In reality, ending birthright citizenship would mean that thousands of children would be born every year in the United States with no citizenship in any country.
Myth: Denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants would result in cost savings.
Fact: On the contrary, changing the simple rule that we have now (everyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen) would result in a significant burden on all Americans who would no longer have an easy and inexpensive way to prove their citizenship. The U.S. would have to create a national registry of citizens, and everyone born in the U.S. would have to have their citizenship adjudicated by a professional. Eliminating birthright citizenship would mean everyone would have to prove they are actually citizens-an even greater burden for minorities, the poor, and the uneducated. In other words, changing our citizenship laws would be incredibly costly for all Americans.
In sum, eliminating birthright citizenship would be unconstitutional, impractical, expensive, and complicated. Furthermore it would constitute an assault on the letter and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution as well as on the civil rights of all Americans. Margaret Stock concludes:
The policy arguments in favor of retaining birthright citizenship are very strong. The policy arguments against it are weak. Even if we believe that it is possible to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment differently than we have been interpreting it for more than a hundred years, it is not clear why we would want to do so. Trading an easy and egalitarian birthright-citizenship rule for one that would cause hardship to millions of Americans is not a smart way to approach our complex immigration problems.