Reframing the Birthright Citizenship Debate with Facts

14th amendmentIn the latest flame war on immigration, some politicians are targeting the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. They blithely state time and time again that undocumented immigrants are flooding the border to have their children in the U.S., thereby guaranteeing them citizenship. Their solution to this supposed “baby dropping epidemic” is amending the U.S. Constitution by repealing the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that, with very few exceptions, all persons born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, regardless of the immigration status of their parents. Sadly, however, their arguments are thin, the facts misrepresented and their attempts at reelection using get-tough on immigration platforms even thinner. When facts don’t matter and vilifying immigrants is par for the course, attacking U.S. citizen children probably seems like a winning reelection strategy.

In a recent Fox News interview, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reiterated the flawed conservative argument for ending birthright citizenship:

“People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child, it’s called drop and leave,” Graham said. “To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, they have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people for all the wrong reasons,” he added.

While some conservatives have taken a step back and challenged attacks on the Fourteenth Amendment, others have punted the argument into left field…the crazy end of left field. Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle went on CNN this week and claimed that pregnant women are coming to America to give birth, then raise their babies as terrorists. You heard me, terrorists. When asked for proof, she mentioned the FBI and then refused to give a source. Surprise.

In fact, misrepresenting the facts has become par for the course in the immigration debate. The Pew Hispanic Center recently released a report which estimated that 340,000 of the 4.3 million children born in the United States in 2008 had at least one unauthorized parent. The “at least one unauthorized parent” conditional, however, was only clarified in a footnote which read, “a child has unauthorized parents if either parent is unauthorized: a child has U.S.-born parents if all identified parents are U.S. born,” meaning that this figure includes families in which one parent is unauthorized and the other a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant (mixed-status households). But that footnote makes a huge difference when determining how many children would be affected by a change to the Fourteenth Amendment. Numerous news articles ran with the Pew report’s estimate as though both parents were undocumented.

The truth is that majority of immigrants come to the U.S. to work, to reunite with their families, or to flee persecution—not to have children. Some immigrants do, in fact, have children in the U.S. and some of those families are mixed status families, but suggesting that undocumented immigrants anchor themselves here through childbirth is just false. As Senator John Kerry (D-MA) pointed out in a recent editorial, undocumented parents with U.S.-born children have to wait decades to apply for family-sponsored citizenship:

seth hoyThere is no epidemic of people “flying in” just to have their children born as U.S. citizens — and every senator knows it. Just as they know it takes more than two decades for a child born in America to sponsor anyone for immigration — which means no back door for undocumented parents to become citizens on the sly.

Denying birthright citizenship is not a solution to illegal immigration—it will not discourage unauthorized immigrants from coming to the U.S., and it will not encourage those already here to leave. Furthermore, it would force all American parents—not just immigrants—to prove the citizenship of their children through a cumbersome and expensive bureaucratic process. But conservative fear-mongers would rather rally their troops with false messaging and mischaracterizations than actually solve our immigration problem.

Seth Hoy

Republished with permission from Immigration Impact.


  1. Beav says

    Jeez Seth, you’re so desperate to make your point that you have to use a 1950s cartoon looking picture to make fun of anyone who might think we should be able to prevent foreigners from stealing our public resources?
    Regular Americans think the birthright citizenship policy sucks. Stop making fun of people just to make your point. Your cartoon graphic is dishonest.

    • says


      Seth has nothing to do with picking the artwork that accompanied his article. I picked it. Your comment aside, I still think I made a good choice. Editorial cartoons often exaggerate to make a point.

      — Dick Price, Editor

      • Beav says

        You’re not exaggerating, Dick, you’re stereotyping. Your graphic implies that anyone who is against the ridiculous birthright citizenship policy is a big fat white bigot.

        I’m brown skinned, and my ancestors are immigrants. I think immigration is one of our biggest strengths in this country.

        Seth and other pro-illegal immigration writers here at LA Progressive are trying to typecast those of us who are against birthright citizenship as thoughtless bigots. That’s not fair. Many of us have thought carefully about this policy, recognized its problems and developed solutions that are fair and reasonable.

        Birthright citizenship is bad policy, and it’s particularly dangerous in today’s world. Why do you think so many people are anti-Mexican? The more people who cheat to steal from the American taxpayers, the more racism we create. Modernizing our birthright citizenship policy to reflect the reality of today’s overpopulation and easy travel will actually help reduce xenophobia and racism, because the immigrants that come here will be those who are willing to participate legally in our great American culture and society.

        Pretending those who are against birthright citizenship are bigots is nto just disingenuous, it exacerbates the interracial problems we face.

        • says


          Denying that there is a deep vein of racism in the anti-immigrant clamor is simply preposterous.

          That’s not to say that everyone supporting the Right-wing, punish-the-immigrant-first policies is a racist. But some are, and you surely know it.

          Certainly, addressing our undocumented worker problem is critical. We’ve cast a blind eye in that direction for decades, which has placed us in our current predicament.

          But going after the immigrants first — building walls, arresting them on sight, driving them underground, separating them from their children, denying their children brithright and education — is not the way to do it.

          We Americans have invited these millions of people in to our country to work at low-paying jobs in substandard conditions. Not all of us have directly hired these undocumented workers at companies we own, but we’ve all benefited from the low-cost food, housing, apparel, and services they produce — without noticeable complaint (have you seen at a picket line at a low-cost house because it was built by Salvadoran carpenters?).

          I favor solving our undocumented worker problem, just as you say you do. But I want to do it comprehensively, which would recognize that we have invited these people into our country where they have lived for years and so owe them a dignified avenue to legal residence and eventual citizenship, if they qualify. We need to make sure they’re paying taxes properly; provide them education and healthcare available to other residents so they can contribute even more to America’s welfare; make sure all people working in our country have a legal right to do so; and then, last, worry about the border.

          I believe you when you say you’re not a bigot. But you’re standing next to neo-Nazis, KKKers, and their ilk who clearly are. Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.

          — Dick

  2. SK says

    Seth, you’re so full of it. No one is “targeting children.” The children already born here in this country are citizens, whether or not their parents are Americans. Nothing can change that, and no one is “going after” those kids.
    Updating the centuries old birthright citizenship rule that entices foreigners to sneak into this country to have children will simply allow us to stop PAYING for the children of those lawbreakers. The birthright citizenship concept was created back when people had to travel by foot to move to another area. The idea is that if families move from one country to another, their kids get to be citizens of the new country. Nowadays, foreign visitors can fly to the US as (or sneak across our border illegally), have a baby and fly right back to their country of origin, and then stick the American taxpayers with any and all future costs for raising and educating that baby they popped out on American soil. That’s just not right. It’s bad policy to have an enticement for foreigners to break the law, and it’s wrong force Americans to pay for other people’s kids.
    Seth says that people don’t come here to have kids, but that’s bull. I’ve worked for travel agencies that specifically target Asian travelers to fly to Hawaii, have their baby on US soil, and reap the rewards even if they take their kid right back to Asia. Since they get automatic citizenship, those kids are eligible for freebies such as housing, food, welfare, health care and college funding as well as priority for admissions.
    Seth says that it’s cumbersome and expensive to prove our children are legally American citizens. What world do you live in Seth? Do you drive a car? Do you have a Social Security number and a SS card? That means you showed a birth certificate to get those two documents. Get real, it’s not cumbersome, we’re already going through that process just to be able to drive and work (legally) in this country. It’s only the illegal aliens that will find it a problem to have to prove their kids are citizens, because their kids won’t be if we modernize the birthright citizenship rule.
    We need to change this rule to reflect the modern world where people travel quickly and cheaply and where most of the world would like to take advantage of American taxpayers.

    • Abraham says

      John McCain was born in Panama. Ted Cruz was born in Canada. Ted Cruz father was born in Cuba.
      Some of our most famous early American men were foreigners. It is a silly notion to believe babies are born here and benefit for Freebies. You sound like fox news. ” those kids are eligible for freebies such as housing, food, welfare, health care and college funding as well as priority for admissions.” I am here to inform you that YOUR republican representatives will cut housing, food, health care, and college funding for all us and our children. No worries there. If they take over our government, expect it. Your past is nothing but immigrates who got in without the benefit of restrictive laws. Except for the Chinese and some Europeans during the 1920’s. The law stays….We the REAL people will not allow the change to our Constitution. Not happening. A comprehensive law to fix the immigration system which will require compromise is the only way. Vote for a smart representative and you might get most of what you want. Vote for the same fella. Well, I guess we will wait until the old dies off before good changes can occur.

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