Posted on November 21, 2005

Inheriting a Nation

Monitor (McAllen, Tex.), Nov. 20

A Republican-led effort in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to change a constitutional amendment that grants American citizenship to any child born on the nation’s soil.

In an effort to deal with illegal immigration, some congressmen are actively discussing the possibility of banning birthright citizenship, also known as “anchor baby provisions,” claiming undocumented women have babies on U.S. soil so their children can gain access to this country’s services and benefits.

When those children turn 21, they in turn can petition the federal government for citizenship for their parents and siblings.

The 14th Amendment gives citizenship to anybody born within the United States. To change this or any other amendment, there has to be a proposal in Congress or a constitutional convention from two-thirds of the nation’s state legislatures. Thirty-eight of 50 states must approve any changes to the constitution.

The issue of birthright citizenship could be part of a larger immigration reform bill available for discussion in Congress by the end of the year. Authors of the yet-to-be-named bill will be looking at the Citizenship Reform Act of 2005 for guidance. The act, which would end birthright citizenship, was introduced March 2 on the House floor and given to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, where it still sits. The reform package with a possible birthright citizenship ban will be presented to the full House first before it is assigned to a committee. If the bill is voted on by the full House, it will follow the same process in the Senate before going to President George W. Bush for his signature.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Georgia, authored the reform act, securing 60 co-sponsors; nine of them are Texas Republicans: Kevin Brady, John R. Carter, Michael K. Conaway, John Abney Culberson, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Randy Neugebauer, Pete Sessions and Lamar Smith.

Many civil rights organizations say this is just another reactionary effort that eats away at this country’s founding principles.


Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan polling firm based in Ocean Grove, N.J., released a survey Nov. 7 saying 49 percent of 1,500 adults polled in the United States said they supported ending birthright citizenship. Forty-one percent of them wanted the practice to remain in tact.

The survey included 37 percent each of Republicans and Democrats and 26 percent of people who were not members of any political party. “To some people it (banning birthright citizenship) makes sense, because why should someone who is here illegally gain the benefit of citizenship?” said Scott Rasmussen, the firm’s president. “To others, it speaks of discrimination. There is, overall, a general feel that there is an idea that has some instinctive support and is worthy of a public debate. Where it goes from there, I’m not quite sure.”


What indeed would cause debate would be a birthright citizenship ban that contradicts the U.S. Constitution, which allows that anyone born on U.S. soil automatically is a U.S. citizen.

Tancredo and Deal are using arguments made in Congress in 1868 to solidify their beliefs that the 14th Amendment’s language could be interpreted in different ways.

“In passing the 14th Amendment, (Sen. Lyman) Trumbull argued that the U.S.’s jurisdiction was meant to cover only persons who did ‘not ow(e) allegiance to anybody else,’” Tancredo wrote recently in an op-ed piece his congressional office circulated. “(U.S. Sen. Jacob) Howard was even clearer, noting that the amendment ‘will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.’”

The 14th Amendment states, “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.”

Texas rejected the amendment on Oct. 27, 1866, but ratified it Feb. 18, 1870, according to information from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

“It was never intended to grant citizenship to the children of illegal aliens,” Smith said.