State Rep. Rafael Anchía & state Sen. Rodney Ellis, Special Contributors | Austin American Statesman
Monday, Sept. 20, 2010
Make no mistake: The United States' immigration system is broken. Fixing it will require a concerted effort on the part of our nation's leaders to address what is an incredibly complex issue. What won't work, however, is using the children of illegal immigrants as a wedge issue leading up to November's elections.
Republican leaders across the nation have made public and vocal calls over the past month to either re-examine or outright repeal portions of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, they dislike the first sentence in section one: "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."
In other words, the 14th Amendment grants automatic citizenship to a child born in our country, regardless of the immigration status of the child's parents. More than a century of legal precedent has affirmed the tenet of birthright citizenship. In the 1898 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who at the time of his birth were subjects of the emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States," was, by virtue of his birth in the United States, a citizen of the United States. Subsequent decisions have upheld the court's standard and concluded that no person should be deprived of citizenship because of his parents' status as non-citizens.
Regardless, the goal of eliminating birthright citizenship, which long has existed on the fringe, suddenly has emerged as mainstream. Indeed, phrases like "anchor baby," "terror baby," and "drop a child" have become part of society's acceptable lexicon. But let us momentarily put aside the vocabulary of the debate and concentrate on its substance.
Despite claims to the contrary, denying citizenship to the children of undocumented parents would exacerbate our already broken immigration system by adding thousands of undocumented children to the system who would both be unable to work or easily assimilate into American culture. The practical effect of eliminating birthright citizenship would be the creation of a permanent underclass of stateless individuals in our society, the majority of them children. Further, there is no empirical evidence to prove that even passing such a measure would deter illegal immigration because most immigrants come to this country to work, and denying citizenship has no effect on those individuals already in the country.
So let's call this debate what it truly is: a cynical, election-season ploy to push a wedge issue to the front pages of the newspapers and the lead story on cable news. While we have seen this tactic time and time again, this year it involves potentially amending the Constitution — the same Constitution that amendment proponents publicly professes guides their principles. The 14th Amendment is an important part of American history, and it should not be changed simply to pursue a partisan agenda before an election.
Our country instead needs to come together to fix the broken immigration system via tough immigration laws that crack down on violent criminals and give law enforcement the tools it needs to secure our borders. We also need a system for earned status that is rational and reflects our country's ideals.
What we don't need, however, are attacks on constitutional values we hold dear.
Anchía is a Democrat from Dallas; Ellis is a Democrat from Houston.