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“Birthright Citizenship” Up For Debate

The “Birthright Citizenship” bill will be introduced to the House of Representatives in January as part of a proposal to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.

Following November’s mid-term elections, issues surrounding the importance of individuals’ rights have risen to importance.. At the forefront of this debate is the citizenship status of children born in the United States to illegal immigrants. This issue has been linked to interpretation of the 14th Amendment by federal and state legislature, which guarantees “birthright citizenship.”

The most influential section of the 14th Amendment is Section 1:

“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.”

On July 28, 1868, the 14th Amendment officially became a part of the United States Constitution. In order to protect the rights of emancipated blacks following the Civil War, the Republican majority proposed the 14th Amendment, which contained a citizenship clause that guaranteed citizenship to children born of slaves in the U.S. and overruled the Dred Scott decision which denied citizenship to any individual of African ancestry.

When the Republican-led House of Representatives reconvenes in January, a bill to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States will be on the table. The “Birthright Citizenship” bill is backed by Iowa Rep. Steve King, who believes that immigration law should not create incentives for people to enter the U.S. illegally to have children.

According to research from the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2008 about 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the U.S were children of undocumented immigrants. King argues that people intentionally have children in the U.S. to access benefits – paid for by U.S. taxpayers – and residency opportunities, creating an “anchor baby industry.” Under immigration law, children must wait until they are 21 years old to apply for legal residency for their parents, which means parents live in the U.S. illegally for that amount of time.

The Economist reports that the interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” allows the amendment to apply to children of illegal immigrants, but the proposed “Birthright” bill would further interpret the phrase in a way to deny them citizenship. According to Slate Magazine, the bill is opposed by lawmakers who argue that it won’t resolve the issue of illegal immigration. The original intent of Amendment 14 in 1868 was to prevent children of slaves from becoming second-class citizens.

A different approach would be the approval of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would give people younger than 16 when they entered the U.S. the opportunity to become legal residents and apply for citizenship if they have finished at least two years of college. DREAM would prevent children raised as Americans – with no idea that they aren’t citizens – from being deported if they wish to seek higher education or serve in the Armed Forces. The act was first introduced in Congress 10 years ago.

Rather than revoking “birthright citizenship,” the 14th Amendment could be amended to reflect similar laws in other countries. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, France and India all have laws that require at least one parent to be a legal resident for the child to become a legal citizen.

By Liana Minassian with contribution by OUTLOUD Staff

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