GOP Bill Aims to Retool Immigrant Birthright Citizenship

Stephen Wall, San Bernardino Sun, February 14, 2010

Republican lawmakers in Congress are sponsoring a bill that seeks to abolish birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents.

Federal law automatically grants citizenship to any person born on American soil, regardless of the immigration status of the child’s parents.

Supporters of the bill say that many people come to this country for the express purpose of having children who are American citizens, making the family eligible for welfare and other government benefits.

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The bill does not seek to change the Constitution, which grants birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868.

Instead, it would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to clarify the interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

The measure would limit birthright citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is either a citizen, lawful permanent resident or actively serving in the U.S. military. The legislation would only apply prospectively and would not affect the citizenship status of people born before the bill’s enactment.

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The bill’s proponents say the intent of the 14th Amendment was to grant citizenship to emancipated slaves after the Civil War.

The 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.”

Miller said the words, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” should not apply to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents.

“You can’t tell me a person who is a citizen of any other country is subject to our jurisdiction. They’re not,” said Miller, whose district includes Chino and Chino Hills. “If their parents are from another country, they are a citizen of that country. They are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”

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Adrian Pantoja, associate professor of political studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, said the legislation is “largely symbolic” and unlikely to pass.

“There’s a long tradition in America,” Pantoja said. “We really don’t hold the children responsible for the actions of the parents. It wasn’t the child’s fault that the parents came here.”

McKeon concedes that the bill’s sponsors face an uphill battle.

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