What Does the Vitter-Paul Resolution to Amend the Constitution Solve, Exactly?

In the latest attack on the Constitution and U.S. citizenship, Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a resolution (S. J. RES. 2) last week proposing an amendment to the constitution to limit citizenship to children born in the U.S. if 1) one parent is a U.S. citizen, 2) one parent is a legal permanent resident residing in the U.S., or 3) one parent is on active duty in the U.S. military. Arizona State Rep. Kavanaugh also introduced two bills last week attempting to deny citizenship to children born in the state to undocumented immigrants and require state officials to issue distinctive looking birth certificates to those children the state does not consider citizens. While these bills might make for splashy headlines, they do nothing to end undocumented immigration. In fact, it would make life more difficult for every person in the U.S., who would then have to prove their citizenship status in order to determine the status of their newborns.

According to Sen. Vitter, constitutional citizenship is a “loophole” that must be closed:

For too long, our nation has seen an influx of illegal aliens entering our country at an escalating rate, and chain migration is a major contributor to this rapid increase – which is only compounded when the children of illegal aliens born in the U.S. are granted automatic citizenship. Closing this loophole will not prevent them from becoming citizens, but will ensure that they have to go through the same process as anyone else who wants to become an American citizen.

It’s fascinating how Sen. Vitter can get so many things wrong in one short statement. By my count, there are at least four errors in those two sentences.

First, research has shown that illegal immigration has actually decreased in recent years due to the recession and the lack of job opportunities in the U.S.

Second, so-called “chain migration” does not contribute to undocumented immigration.Immigrants are not coming to the U.S. to give birth, and children born in the U.S. cannot sponsor their parents for green cards for at least 21 years. In fact, if children born in the U.S. were denied citizenship and innocent children would be born undocumented due to no fault of their own, the undocumented population would increase.

Third, constitutional citizenship is not a “loophole,” it’s a fundamental part of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution was altered expressly to ensure that all persons born in the U.S. would be citizens, and that no state or individual could redefine citizenship to create an underclass. Legislators ran their campaigns on the Constitution, have sworn to uphold the Constitution, have vowed to govern only within the parameters of the Constitution, and opened the 112th Congress by reading the constitution. How can they refer to the 14th Amendment as a “loophole?”

Fourth, yes, it will prevent them from becoming citizens. That’s exactly their point, isn’t it? There is no path to citizenship for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants who cannot enter the U.S. legally through either the family- or employment-based immigration system. However, it is interesting that Sen. Vitter mentions going through the same process as everyone else. What most people fail to recognize is that altering the citizenship clause would have an impact on every person born in the U.S. Every parent would have to prove their citizenship status in order to determine the status of their newborns. For some this might be easy, but for others, this could be a long, difficult, and expensive process.

michele waslinThe Vitter-Paul resolution, as well as the Arizona bills, are likely to get some media attention and will surely excite the extreme wing of the restrictionist movement. But a look at the facts shows that attacking birthright citizenship is not a constructive path to go down. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post, this is an “amendment in search of a problem.”

Michele Waslin
Immigration Impact

Published by the LA Progressive on February 2, 2011
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About Michele Waslin

Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. She has authored several publications on immigration policy and post-9/11 immigration issues. Ms. Waslin appears regularly in English and Spanish-language media. Previously, she worked as Director of Immigration Policy Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Policy Coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She received her Ph.D. in 2002 in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Science from Creighton University. (mwaslin@ailf.org)