New Right-Wing Attack on 14th Amendment

anchor babiesSens. David Vitter And Paul Shift From Amending To Redefining The Constitution’s Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment

Earlier this year, Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a resolution that would amend the Constitution to eliminate the guarantee that all persons born in the U.S. are automatically citizens. “Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits,” said Paul in a press release at the time. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives and in conservative state legislatures across the country, right-wing lawmakers have been introducing legislation that would simply reinterpret the 14th amendment’s citizenship provision to prevent the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants from obtaining citizenship.

Vitter and Paul similarly argued that neither the language nor the intent of the 14th amendment were meant to confer “birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens.” Yet the fact that their initial proposal involved actually going through the trouble of modifying the Constitution signaled quite the opposite. This week, the two senators addressed the legislative dissonance by introducing a bill that’s essentially a carbon copy of Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) birthright citizenship proposal in the House. Vitter and Paul, along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), say their legislation “requires the federal government to limit automatic citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, legal resident, or member of the military.”

Yet, rather than seeking two thirds of Congress and three-fourths of all the states to amend the Constitution, they now simply seek to redefine it by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act. It seems unlikely that Vitter and Paul’s bill will get the 60 votes it needs to get passed — at least in the current Congress. Even if it did, the whole premise that the “subject to the jurisdication thereof” language of the 14th amendment doesn’t apply to undocumented immigrants is pretty bogus in light of judicial precedent. The 14th amendment is relatively explicit about the fact that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” are in fact “citizens of the United States.” The Supreme Court, at various times, has ruled that “the Fourteenth Amendment extends to anyone, citizen or stranger, who is subject to the laws of a State, and reaches into every corner of a State’s territory. That a person’s initial entry into a State, or into the United States, was unlawful, and that he may for that reason be expelled, cannot negate the simple fact of his presence within the State’s territorial perimeter.” (Plyler v. Doe)

Andrea NillSince it’s highly unlikely their proposal will get very far, it raises the question of what Vitter and Paul’s goals really are. It’s one thing to argue in favor of a constitutional amendment. The arguments behind it are still beyond questionable, but at least they are based on a general agreement that the 14th amendment has been rightly interpreted throughout the past century. When people start arguing that the Constitution has been misread for over 150 years, it undercuts the legitimacy of the millions of Latino and Asian citizens who at some point in their family tree had citizenship conferred to them through an immigrant family member who came to the U.S. during periods when most foreign residents lacked formal “legal” status. Given the fact that Vitter and Paul waged two of the most blatantly racist campaigns last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what they’re trying to accomplish.

Andrea Nill
Wonk Room


  1. SK says

    You can make fun of the Republicans trying to stop illegal immigration, but the fact is, illegal aliens undermine our working and middle class and suck off our scarce public resources. Birthright citizenship is just one of the many inducements for illegal aliens to break into out country. If we’re going to have immigration policy at all, and pay so much money to restrict immigration, then we need to stop allowing illegal aliens to do “end runs” around our laws. The question is, why are liberals so he!!bent on helping only those who cheat to become American citizens? Why doesn’t the left care about all those kids whose parents don’t break into this country? Other countries have recently changed their policies to limit birthright citizenship to current citizens. Our country will eventually do it as well, but it sounds like naïve progressives are going to do their best to let millions more illegal aliens steal from us first.

    The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to give citizenship to children of slaves newly freed by the Thirteenth Amendment. It wasn’t designed to provide an incentive for people to bypass immigration controls. When it was written, people had to walk or sail to get to another country. Now they can fly into the U.S. for the explicit purpose of having a baby (“maternity tourism”). Today, if a woman sneaks across the border (or even comes here on a legal visit) and has a baby, the US citizens can be saddled with the cost of the childbirth, and that “instant citizen” is entitled to all of our social programs that we pay for with taxes, such as welfare, federal Section 8 housing, Medicaid, Medicare, ObamaCare, social security disability and more. If the parents are deported or put their kid with another family, public money for foster care can be paid to relatives even if the mom and dad are still living with their kid. Mexican illegal immigrants can (and do) demand that their kids be educated in Spanish instead of English, which costs the public even more, and the kids can even get free college thanks to American taxpayers. Illegal aliens can get all this for their kids, even if they’ve never paid a dime into the system.

    Clearly, our birthright citizenship policy has to be changed so that it no longer creates such an incentive for breaking immigration law. This is not trampling upon the fundamental principles the U.S. is based on, it is recognizing that when the 14th Amendment was written, there were no planes available to pop into the US to have a baby. There were also no nuclear bombs and terrorists vying to destroy our country. The world is a different place today. The world’s population is out of control and causing long term environmental damage. Unbridled immigration could easily be the death of our democracy, and certainly will be used by the wealthy to further degrade our hard won protections for families and workers. We have protections not found in third world nations whose citizens work 16 hour days, don’t have safety standards or minimum pay, and send their kids to jobs instead of school. Is that what we want? If so, let’s open up the borders, because the worlds billions would love to come pouring into our country to make it the way they think it should be, including outvoting progressives who believe in living wages and installing Sharia law and other totalitarian policies we disagree with. But if you think our way of life is good, then we need to model it for other countries, supporting the growth of democracy and sustainable business here and elsewhere. To do so, we need to maintain limits on immigration, eliminate birthright citizenship for lawbreakers, and do all we can to help the downtrodden in other countries with ever increasing populations of poor people.

    • NP says

      Every time someone wants to prevent illegal immigration, liberals start screaming racism. What exactly is racist about trying to stop people from sneaking into this country and popping out “instant citizens” that can immediately access our social services even though their parents never paid a dime into the system?

      BTW, since when is Mexican a race. And since when is the immigration problem only about Mexican illegal aliens? Jeez.

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