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Birthright Citizenship Being Attacked

As we predicted, the new year would bring a flurry of new initiatives that are not particularly immigrant-friendly. During the past November midterms, Republicans gained more than 690 seats in state legislatures nationwide, winning their strongest representation at the state level in more than 80 years. Because very few people expected any movement on immigration issues, especially at the very beginning of the new 112th Congress, it may come as a shock that immigration policy is one of the issues that have been placed at the top of the agenda for this new Republican-led legislative session.

A coalition of lawmakers have unveiled an unusual coordinated effort to cancel the automatic U.S. citizenship for children born in this country of illegal immigrant parents. Although opponents and most scholars consider the effort to be patently unconstitutional, and despite the fact that the power to grant citizenship resides within the federal government and not at the state level, a number of states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Pennsylvania will introduce bills to do just that.

Because automatic citizenship is a birth right conferred to those born in this country that is guaranteed by the 14th U.S. Constitutional Amendment, it would be painstakingly troublesome to have this overturned. For that reason, those involved in the drafting of the legislation say they have decided against trying to amend the Constitution and have instead decided to create two kinds of birth certificates in their states, one for the children of citizens and another for the children of illegal immigrants. At a recent news conference, Daryl Metcalfe, a leader of this new effort who is a Republican state representative from Pennsylvania, announced that his goal was to eliminate “anchor baby status, in which an illegal alien invader comes into our country and has a child on our soil that is granted citizenship automatically.” At today’s inauguration, John Boehner, the Republican who took Nancy Pelosi’s former position as Speaker of the House, gave the following remarks that address the Republican objective that is meant to “give government back to citizens of the U.S. and provide honesty and accountability.” He stated that “[n]o longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”

Those that support the repeal of the birth right citizenship argue that it will prevent illegal immigrants from being allowed to stay in this country due to their children born here. Yet despite being called “anchor babies,” the children of illegal immigrants cannot actually prevent their parents from being deported. It is not until they reach the age of 21 that they are able to file paperwork to sponsor their parents for legal immigration status. Fortunately, this contentious measure may not- and probably will not- go into effect immediately in those states that have opted for it, and we can surely expect a string of court challenges trying to block its passage with lawsuits filed by Latino and immigrant advocate legal organizations. That said, as we saw by the domino effect that ensued after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the Arizona immigration bill, the threat of a lawsuit will probably not deter different states from devising similar legislation, no matter how heavily controversial it may be.