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The Folly of Repealing Birthright Citizenship

Released on Tue, Mar 30, 2010

Washington D.C. - This Sunday, the editorial pages of the Washington Post included a piece penned by journalist George Will on the topic of birthright citizenship. Will highlights a scholar who argues against giving those born in the United States birthright citizenship and characterizes the repeal of a 150 year-old constitutional tenet as "a simple reform." Normally, the idea of stripping those born in America of their right to citizenship has been relegated to the domain of immigration restrictionists and select politicians who try to exploit it for electoral gains. In endorsing this argument, Mr. Will has looked past a whole body of research which examines the dramatic and far- reaching consequences this would have on American society.

The arguments about birthright citizenship revolve around the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which affirms that all persons born in the United States (and subject to its jurisdiction) have a birthright to citizenship. A repeal of the 14th amendment is sometimes raised as a "cure" to our current broken immigration system, when in reality it takes us further away from the larger conversation that must be had about how we can fairly and efficiently revamp American immigration. Proposing solutions to the symptoms, rather than the root causes of a broken system, do nothing to solve our overall immigration problems and create divisions and dysfunctions in our society at all levels.

In the spirit of balance, the Immigration Policy Center is re-releasing our four-part series originally released in September, 2009 on birthright citizenship entitled:  Made in America, Myths & Facts about Birthright Citizenship.

 The series includes:

  • Defining "American" Birthright Citizenship and the Original Understanding of the 14th Amendment by James C. Ho, a constitutional scholar, examines the historical and legal genesis of birthright citizenship and the unsuccessful legal arguments put forward to abolish it.
  • Debunking Modern Arguments Against Birthright Citizenship by Elizabeth B. Wydra of the  Constitutional Accountability Center who looks at the Reconstructionist context of the Citizenship Clause and shows that Congress clearly meant to provide birthright citizenship to all those born on U.S. soil, regardless of the immigration status of their parents.
  • Policy Arguments in Favor of Retaining America's Birthright Citizenship Law by Margaret D. Stock, an immigration attorney who  provides  very  practical  reasons  to  avoid  tampering with  birthright  citizenship. The far reaching consequences of such a change would place a burden on all Americans, who would have to document their claim to citizenship. Contrary to the argument of anti-immigrant groups that abolishing birthright citizenship is key to resolving the problem of illegal immigration, Stock recognizes that it would only increase the number of stateless individuals without legal status who reside within the United States.
  • A New Nativism: Anti-Immigration Politics and the Fourteenth Amendment by Eric Ward  of  the Center for New Community who provides an African American  perspective on birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment, which was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War in response to continued  discrimination  against African Americans. Ward also examines the motives of the groups at the forefront of current efforts to abolish birthright citizenship and demonstrates  their deeply rooted anti-immigrant beliefs and  ties to nativist and racist traditions.

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For more information contact Wendy Sefsaf at 202-507-7524 or wsefsaf@immcouncil.org

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