Goodbye 14th Amendment?

by Brian Clarey

Last week a couple Republican senators, Arizona’s John Kyl and South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, did something a bit out of the ordinary for red-clad politicians these days: Question the wisdom of the US Constitution.

It wasn’t the Big Ten — the Bill of Rights — upon which they were heaping doubt, but the 14th Amendment, the one that guarantees that every US citizen enjoy the rights outlined by our founding fathers.

The 14th Amendment also covers voting rights, apportion of federal representation, the validity of federal debt and criteria for those seeking elected office — yes it’s the 14th Amendment that birthers cite when they harp on President Obama’s birth certificate.

But the clause of the 14th Amendment now under fire is the first one, the citizenship clause that defines citizenship in the US as belonging to “all persons born or naturalized” here.

Senators Kyl and Graham were concerned about the concept of babies born on US soil to parents who come here expressly for the purpose of bestowing upon them American citizenship — “anchor babies,” as they’re known in the current parlance.

“[T]housands of people are coming across the Arizona/Texas border for the express purpose of having a child in an American hospital so that child will become an American citizen, and they broke the law to get there,” Graham told Greta Van Sustern of Fox News. “We ought to have a logical discussion. Is this the way to award American citizenship, sell it to somebody who’s rich, reward somebody who breaks the law? I think we need to look at it really closely.”

US births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, fueling a burgeoning US citizenship tourism industry, wherein expectant parents secure 90-day visas toward the latter end of gestation so their children can be beneficiaries of the Bill of Rights. ABC News puts the number at “millions” annually, citing the Marmara Manhattan hotel on the Upper East Side of New York City, which offers a “birth tourism” package starting at $7,750 a month, not including hospital bills.

Distasteful? Perhaps, but not as scary as repealing the amendment that guarantees equal rights for all. In fact, the 14th Amendment is the most cited of all amendments in US case law. We shudder to think of a country without the benefit of this cornerstone of our modern democracy.

True, the 14th Amendment was crafted during Reconstruction to prevent Southern states from pushing newly freed slaves into secondclass citizenship by denying them basic rights, and to ensure them to their children. It is possible that the law was not intended to cover the children of illegal immigrants when it was drafted in 1868.

But it was tested by the Supreme Court in 1898, which declared that the children of Chinese immigrants born on US soil were indeed US citizens.

So Kyl and Graham’s argument is simply a rehash of something that has already been settled. And their suggestion, if implemented, would mark only the second time in US history that an amendment was repealed — the last one was the 18th, the one that outlined Prohibition, repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

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