Broadly Speaking: Comments on Republican Efforts to Erode 14th Amendment

Anti-immigrant, anti-Latino Republicans in Congress and in state laegislatures across the country have vowed to eliminate provisions in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantee citizenship to "all persons born in the U.S." Below is a collection of recent statements and commentary from a wide range of groups – left and right – that oppose such a move.


Focus Should Not Be on Partisanship, But People

LOS ANGELES, CA – Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF, issued the statement below in response to a radical proposal by Republican Sens. David Vitter (La.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) that flies in the face of the Fourteenth Amendment’s grant of citizenship to those born in the United States of America. The constitutional right of citizenship at birth, rooted in the hard-fought American values of fairness and equality, should not be subject to political and discriminatory whims. The Vitter-Paul proposal would strip the long-standing grant of citizenship to all born on U.S. soil, and would limit citizenship to those (1) with a parent who is a U.S. citizen; (2) with a parent who is a lawful permanent resident residing in the U.S. or serving on active-duty in the U.S. Armed Forces; or (3) naturalized under immigration law.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel:

"There are few elements of our Constitution more sacrosanct than the Fourteenth Amendment, enacted after great struggle and following the bloody Civil War. Our nation's extraordinarily accomplished early history is marred by a pattern of legally-sanctioned exclusion and racism. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment -- and its Citizenship Clause in particular -- permanently altered this extraordinarily regrettable pattern. This week's introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment to return this nation to its pre-Civil War infamy will earn a permanent place in the annals of shameful senatorial conduct."

“Still, MALDEF is confident that the American people and their representatives will resoundingly defeat this contemptible proposal. We urge Senators David Vitter and Rand Paul to recognize that their oath to uphold the Constitution demands fidelity to our nation's deepest, hard-fought values and rejection of any nostalgic retrogression to caste-based exclusions."

Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Warn Against Attack on 14th Amendment

Washington, DC — Conservative leaders joined a telephonic press conference today held by Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to address recent attempts by state and federal lawmakers, particularly Rep. Steve King (R-IA), to repeal the American Citizenship Clause in the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to children born in the United States.

“The proposal by Rep. Steve King of Iowa to divide children born in America into two unequal classes based on the identity of their parents directly contradicts gospel values and basic American decency, and more than a century of constitutional law,” said Dr. Galen Carey, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. “This week Congress read aloud the U.S. constitution, our nation’s founding document.  Significantly, our Representatives did not read the sections which counted Americans of African descent as 3/5 human, or required escaped slaves to be returned to their captors; but they did read the 14th amendment, which corrected this glaring error and established once and for all that all persons born in this country shall enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship.  This fundamental commitment has been upheld by more than a century of jurisprudence reaching all the way to the Supreme Court."

Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, addressed the topic as well. “The rhetoric of Rep. Steven King has the potential to amend not only the immigration code but Republican outreach to exclude Hispanics and immigrants. Taking the mantle of Tom Tancredo does nothing to address the immigration crisis in America. It is my opinion that Republicans and Conservatives should follow the lead of Norm Coleman and Jeb Bush who understand that in view of the recent census report the future of a politically viable political party lies in the hands of the Hispanic American community. The idea is that children born in America hypothetically will be the citizen of no nation. At the end of the day, they are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Steven King’s bill is morally reprehensible and it runs counter to the ideas of the strong Republican founder Abraham Lincoln.”

“The American Citizenship Clause is how the United States of America were created,” said Juan Hernandez, conservative strategist and co-founder of CfCIR. “We respectfully ask our Congress members to exercise caution if and when they review the 14th Amendment. Our nation's history is one of welcoming, not one of divisiveness. We urge our conservative brothers and sisters to be careful regarding the message that they are sending to the fastest growing segment of our society, the immigrants, mostly Hispanic, who are watching us closely and will be voting in 2012. We must show them that conservatives are ready and willing to lead us forward on this issue, with both adherence to our constitution and compassion for our fellow man.”

Civil Rights Groups Announce Coalition to Protect American Citizenship

Today, a group of civil and human rights organizations and legal scholars announced the formation of a new coalition, called Americans for Constitutional Citizenship (ACC), to fight efforts at the state and federal level to undermine the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship for all persons born in the U.S. This includes recently announced attempts by a group of state legislators to push state-level legislation to deny the privileges of U.S citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

“For the first time since the end of the Civil War, these legislators want to pass state laws that would create two tiers of citizens – a modern-day caste system – with potentially of millions of natural-born Americans being treated as somehow less than entitled to the equal protection of the laws that our nation has struggled so hard to guarantee,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The purported purpose of this insidious proposal is to help reform our nation’s immigration system. But the real purpose in creating a two-tiered group of citizens is something far darker, far more divisive and we believe, decidedly un-American.”

The American Citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment states explicitly that “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.”  The 14th Amendment also forbids any state from abridging the “privileges or immunities of citizens” and from denying to any person the “equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War and in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which sought to deny full citizenship to African Americans.  Constitutional citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment was intended to put citizenship above the preferences and prejudices of any politician or era, and to ensure that all those born on U.S. soil are treated equally with rights of citizenship that no government may abridge.

"What Mr. Kovac and his allies announced today is appalling. Indeed, they would drag us back to a time when minorities were not considered equal to Whites, not worthy of being citizens. While their language is more carefully chosen than that used a century ago, their motives are no less clear,” said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center.  “Many Americans have fought, sacrificed and died to deliver on the promise of equality in the 14th Amendment. This debate is about our values as Americans and the wisdom of undermining the principle that is at the very heart of our Constitution.”

Congress intended the amendment to resolve not only the status of African Americans and their descendants, but also to apply to members of all racial groups and immigrants. The question was debated, and delegates who sought to exclude the children of Chinese immigrants or others from U.S. citizenship lost the debate.  Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, including most notably United States v. Wong Kim Ark, have upheld this interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

“The decision in Wong Kim Ark represents a key advancement in the Asian immigrant community’s struggle for inclusion in American society,” said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center. “Many Americans have fought, sacrificed and died to deliver on the promise of equality in the 14th Amendment. This debate is about our values as Americans and the wisdom of undermining the principle that is at the very heart of our Constitution.”

However, the state legislators, led by lead proponent of Arizona’s anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 Russell Pierce, argue that the amendment was never intended to cover the children of undocumented immigrants.

“The ACC stands committed to oppose – in the strongest possible terms – any legislation at the state or federal level that would seek to undermine the citizenship guarantee of the American Constitution,” said Henderson.

State Legislators Attempt to Turn Back Clock to Pre-Civil War Era, Attack Fundamental Constitutional Values

Washington, D.C. - Today [Jan. 5], State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a coalition of state legislators, revealed their plan to challenge the 14th Amendment and the Constitutional definition of citizenship.  Claiming that they need to correct a "monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment" and protect their states from the "illegal alien invasion," the legislators proposed model legislation intended to spark a new Supreme Court ruling to reinterpret the 14th Amendment.

The model legislation attempts to create a new definition of "state citizenship" and narrow the categories of people who would be citizens at birth: only children born to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, national, or legal permanent resident would be considered citizens.  The bill would also create a "state compact" requiring states to issue two different types of birth certificates:  one for those considered "natural-born U.S. citizens" and another singling out those whom the state does not consider a citizen.

The following is a statement from Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council:

"The proposal presented today is clearly unconstitutional and an embarrassing distraction from the need to reform our nation's immigration laws.  It constitutes a vicious assault on the U.S. Constitution and flies in the face of generations of efforts to expand civil rights.  Moreover, it is an attack on innocent children born in the U.S. who would be confined to a new second-class citizenship and vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.  While claiming to uphold the Constitution, these legislators have taken a clear stance against American values and principles. In the U.S. we have confirmed a tradition of liberty, equality and justice, where we are no more able to punish children for the actions of their parents than we are to pass titles of nobility down from one generation to the next.

"Denying citizenship to certain children born in the U.S. would not decrease unauthorized immigration; in fact it would increase the number of people in the U.S. without legal immigration status.  Moreover, the impact of this misguided effort would be felt well beyond the undocumented population.  Every American parent would have to prove the citizenship status of their children, requiring new documentation and a large government bureaucracy to sort through historical records, immigration documents, and international citizenship laws at taxpayer expense.

"We acknowledge that our immigration laws are badly broken, and we recognize that state and local legislators are frustrated by Congress's unwillingness to reform our immigration system.  However, attacking constitutional citizenship is simply another distraction that moves us further away from addressing the real problems with our broken immigration system.  Rather than challenging Congress to reinterpret the 14th amendment, we need to redouble the effort to reform our immigration laws."

Eliminating Birthright Citizenship Would Not Solve the Problem of Unauthorized Immigration
Immigration Policy Center

There is no evidence that undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. just to give birth.

    * Unauthorized immigrants come to the U.S. to work and to join family members.  Immigrants tend to be of child-bearing age and have children while they are in the U.S.  They do not come specifically to give birth.

    * Stories about “birth tourism” point to small numbers of foreigners who come to the U.S. legally to give birth to their children.  It would be ridiculous to change the U.S. Constitution and impact every single American just to punish a few individuals.

    * “Anchor babies” are a myth.

        * U.S.-citizen children do not protect their parents from deportation.  Every year the U.S. deports thousands of parents of U.S. citizens.
        * U.S.-born children cannot petition for legal status for their parents until they turn 21 years old.  In most cases, if the petition is granted the parents would still have to leave the U.S. and then be barred from re-entering for at least 10 years.  That’s a total of 31 years.  Undocumented immigrants do not come to the U.S. to give birth as part of a 31-year plan.

Eliminating birthright citizenship would INCREASE the undocumented population.

    * Since children born to undocumented immigrants would presumably be undocumented, the size of the undocumented population would actually increase as a result of the new policy.

        * Depending on the details of the changes to birthright citizenship laws, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that the number of unauthorized children living in the U.S. would increase dramatically if birthright citizenship were repealed.  For example, if citizenship were denied to every child with at least one unauthorized parent, the unauthorized population in the U.S. would reach 24 million by 2050.

Repealing birthright citizenship would create a new permanent underclass.

    * While some children could acquire the citizenship of their parents, others would be left with no citizenship or nationality, leaving them stateless.  Children may have no legal home country to turn to.  They would be forced to live in the margins of the international community.

        * Repealing birthright citizenship would create an underclass of unauthorized immigrants who, through no fault of their own, would be forced to live in the margins of U.S. society, would not have access to health care and basic services, would be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and would be at constant risk of deportation.

 Eliminating birthright citizenship is a distraction that moves us away from fixing the real problems with our broken immigration system.

    * Immigrants come to the U.S. to work, to reunite with their families, or to flee persecution.  Denying birthright citizenship will not discourage unauthorized immigrants from coming to the U.S., and it will not encourage those already here to leave.

    * Are we really willing to change the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution rather than address the real problems with our broken immigration system?  Rather, Congress should be addressing immigration issues head on by reforming our immigration laws in a way that fairly addresses the economic and labor needs of the country, unites American families, and ensures that immigrants have legal channels to enter and remain in the U.S.

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  • The attempt to scuttle the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States is an attack on the United States of America.
    It is tantamount to counter-revolution of that same brand which started the Civil War in the United States,in 1861.
    Fascistic sentiments fuel this incitement to war,and war in 2011 is not war in 1861.
    We must agree,both sides,that this war cannot utilize violence,for violence in today's terms threatens the survival of humanity as a whole.
    Civil wars in Tunisia and Egypt and centuries of violence and oppression against native peoples and Negro populations in the United States and the world,particularly involving the African element,of genocidal proportions,make a apocryphal backdrop that we need not,we must not follow.
    We must appeal to the billions,not millions of humanity to support these august civil wars which must,by definition be peaceful,to ensure human and planetary survival.
    God give us the mercy of peace in these civil wars,and give us the peace of human unity.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 02/02/2011 12:22pm (8 years ago)

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