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Ed cetera

Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

August 3, 2010 at 11:18 AM

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Civil Disagreement: Anchor Babies and the 14th Amendment

Posted by Lynne Varner

Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is a feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today the colleagues debate calls by GOP leaders for changes to the 14th Amendment, which gives children of illegal immigrants a right to U.S. citizenship.

Lynne Varner, left, and Bruce Ramsey

Lynne Varner: Bruce, GOP leaders in Congress are hoping to move the immigration reform debate to the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship for children of illegal citizens.

To gauge whether revisions ought to be made to the document adopted in 1868 as part of the post-slavery Reconstruction laws. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is calling for hearings and testimony from experts on immigration.

This is a red herring. Removing the guarantee of birthright citizenship would not accomplish anything of real value on the immigration front. It would not deter people looking for a way around our mess of a visa system.

Mucking with the 14th Amendment doesn't address enforcement of workplace immigration laws or help sectors of the U.S. economy dependent on immigration labor such as agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality the way a temporary worker program would. Debating the birthright of babies won't change one iota the status of the estimated 10.8 million people living here illegally.

Bruce Ramsey: Well, Lynne, no change in the law for future immigrants will change the status of past ones. But we do have the future to think about. We have perhaps 11 million illegals now. Do you want 20 million?

One of the questions we need to think about is, "If a pregnant woman sneaks into the United States, or an illegal immigrant concieves while here, does it make sense to grant U.S. citizenship to the child? Because that's what we do. And then we have a mother who's illegal, and probably a father also, but a child with a constitutional right to live his whole life here. And does that make any sense?

This rule comes from an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States..." This was put into the Constitution after the Civil War. Congress was thinking about the former slaves, not illegal immigrants. I don't think we had illegal immigrants back then.

I think the Constitution needs to be changed. I'd rather amend it openly than allow judges to "reinterpret" it any more; it has been folded and mutilated enough. In any case, the citizenship of a baby ought to be determined, most of the time at least, by the citizenship of its mother. The "anchor baby" rule ought to go. It makes no logical sense, and I've not heard of any other country that has it.

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