Thursday, August 12, 2010

Birthright-Citizenship: An Endangered Right?

As the battle over immigration legislation wages on, a group of United States Senators have decided to combat the issue with constitutional reform, rather than implementing policies of immigration reform. The group of senators, comprised of Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl, has proposed to re-examine and revise the 14th amendment as means to decrease the amount of illegal immigrants entering the United States. The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, took the 13th amendment—which abolished slavery—even further to ensure blacks with more rights by granting all blacks citizenship. It established birthright-citizenship and Sen. Graham—who spear-headed the movement to subject the 14th amendment to hearings—believes that scores of illegal immigrants come to the United States illegally and try to obtain citizenship by giving birth to a child in the U.S.: “They come here to drop a child. It’s called drop and leave.”

Sen. Graham looked into the subject after being unable to answer a question posed at a city hall meeting, the person was inquiring about why children of illegal immigrants are allowed to be American citizens. Graham believes that the amendment, as it currently stands, acts as an incentive for people to come to America illegally for the sole purpose of using an “anchor baby” to gain citizenship. Graham and other critics of the 14th amendment consider that this “drop and leave” technique is a gross abuse and perversion of the U.S. Constitution as intended by the Founding Fathers.

As troubling as the terms “anchor baby” or “drop and leave” sound, the unfortunate imagery of these phrases is the least of our worries. The proposed call to hearing for repealing the 14th amendment is troublesome on many levels.

Many commentators on immigration reform are part of groups dedicated to lowering the amount of immigrants in America—such as NumbersUSA—but ironically overlook the fact that by repealing the 14th amendment and denying citizenship to children born of illegal immigrant parents, they would be increasing the actual numbers of undocumented people in the United States, according to many immigration lawyers. Also ignored is the fact that children must wait until they are 21 years of age before they can even apply for legal residency for their parents—which makes the “drop and leave” technique impractical. In fact, the repealing of the amendment and the creation of new rules would be met with a need for each parent to prove their own and their child’s statuses, inflating the government’s role in the everyday lives of even more people—something conservatives may have trouble facing.

Moreover, repealing the 14th amendment does not combat the specific issue but attempts to instill a blanket solution rather than a nuanced strategy that targets the problem directly. The effects of retracting the 14th amendments can go beyond the scope of immigration issues. As Roland S. Martin puts it: “It's clear that overall Congress is choosing to apply a Band-Aid to the illegal immigration problem instead of dealing with it head-on.”

Politically, this initiative is also particularly problematic. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been known to stray from his party alliance to not only find a bipartisan solution but sometimes siding with the opposite party; Graham has supportedthe bailout for financial institutions, and comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.” Graham’s new proposal to amend the constitution to restrict birthright-citizenship has troubled immigration groups who thought of Graham as a vital ally beforehand. Although Graham is gaining support from some conservatives over this matter, he is also creating a party split—especially from those Republicans who are staunch constitutionalists and believe that the 14th amendment is one of the Constitution’s most important legacies.

Rather than trying to amend the Constitution—it has been proposed by many lawmakers that they create a statute instead. Fortunately, the Constitution is pretty hard to change; the last amendment was made 40 years ago to change the voting age to 18 and the last ratification of an amendment was made in 1992 to set the rules for congressional salaries. Hopefully, the movement to repeal the 14th amendment will be replaced with a solution that will prove to be less indirect and more refined.

The most problematic implication of changing the 14th amendment is what it means about this nation's departure from its initial intentions and the distinctions that set it apart from all other countries. The United States has always been a nation of immigrants, people seeking freedom and opportunity, and a place where citizenship has long been granted indiscriminately. However, with this move to appeal the 14th amendment, the United States is abandoning all of these values. Unlike many other countries that can, and actively do, grant and deny citizenship based on very specific ethnicities and religions, America has had one very important criterion: birthright. Everyone who comes to this country has been able to enjoy the rights instilled by the Founding Fathers; and although people who enter the country unlawfully should be dealt with, changing the rights outlined by the Constitution is not the most effective or admirable method of repairing the situation.

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