Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Back in the spotlight: The 14th Amendment

A baby at a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles, May 1, 2010
A baby at a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles, May 1, 2010
Photo by Victoria Bernal/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The back-and-forth over the 14th Amendment has recently bubbled back to the top of the immigration-debate cauldron. Until now, the talk of eliminating the constitutional right to U.S. citizenship for all those born in this country or naturalized had stayed in the realm of talk, more or less. Now, legislative efforts to either repeal birthright citizenship outright or force a federal court review are apparently gaining steam.

From a story in Sunday's Arizona Republic:

There are two emerging tracks to challenging the longstanding tenet that almost any baby born on U.S. soil is an automatic citizen. One is a traditional constitutional amendment asserting that one or both parents must be U.S. citizens or at least lawful permanent residents for a baby to qualify for citizenship. The other would be to pass federal or state legislation that could provoke a court battle over the amendment's citizenship clause.

The latter approach, state legislation, is on the move in Arizona. The Republic reported on Sunday that two prominent legislators (including Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, an architect of the controversial anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070) plan to introduce legislation early next year that could identify children born in this country on their state birth certificates as the children of undocumented immigrants.

From a different Republic story on Sunday:

Such legislation, the lawmakers hope, could trigger a review of the Supreme Court's interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which now grants citizenship to anyone born inside the U.S.

The Supreme Court decision upon with the 14th Amendment is currently interpreted was made in 1898 in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The plaintiff, the San Francisco-born child of Chinese immigrants, had been barred from re-entering the country after traveling to China under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned nearly all immigration from China. It was ruled that because he was born in the United States, he was a U.S. citizen and able to return home.

Also on Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on an election-year push by that state's federal Republican House members to support the "Birthright Citizenship Act," a 2009 bill drafted by former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville, Georgia, now running for governor.

Even if it's election-year posturing, the prospect of revising the U.S. Constitution to repeal a constitutional right is serious business. According to a recent report released by the Migration Policy Institute, such a move would also dramatically increase the ranks of undocumented immigrants, just the population that the critics of birthright citizenship hope to reduce.

However, given the political climate, it's not just legislators riding the immigration ticket who are in support of possibly turning second-generation Americans born to undocumented parents into something else: According to a UPI poll released today, nearly half of U.S. voters polled agreed with eliminating citizenship for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

For those unfamiliar with what the 14th Amendment entails, here is Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.