This is Part 3 in a series of articles examining the 14th Amendment, particularly with respect to the current misinterpretation of the Amendment giving birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal alien parents. The content of the 14th Amendment was discussed in Part 1 of this series: "Overview of the 14th Amendment." Part 2 of the series discussed "The Original Intent of the 14th Amendment."
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified immediately after the American Civil War on July 9, 1868. The primary intent of the Amendment was to address issues resulting from the war: equal protection, slavery, voting and apportionment, citizenship, and who may hold public office.
As noted in Part 2 of this series, the primary focus of 14th Amendment was to protect the rights of native-born Black Americans, whose rights as recently freed slaves were being denied. The United States had no formal immigration policy during the post Civil War period; therefore, the authors of the 14th Amendment saw no need to explicitly address immigration in the Amendment.
The Amendment's key phrase, "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," was intended to exclude American-born persons from automatic citizenship whose allegiance to the United States was not complete.
The correct interpretation of the 14th Amendment is quite simply that an illegal alien mother is subject to the jurisdiction of her native country, as is her baby.
The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed this interpretation of citizenship in the so-called "Slaughter-House cases" (1873 and 1884). Another Supreme Court decision, "Wong Kim Ark," was based strictly upon the 14th Amendment and affirmed the status of the parents to be crucial in determining the citizenship of the child.
The 14th Amendment currently is being misinterpreted to grant automatic birthright citizenship to children born in the United States of illegal alien parents. These children are called "anchor babies" because under the 1965 immigration Act, they act as an anchor that pulls the illegal alien mother and eventually a host of other relatives into permanent U.S. residency. This clearly is contrary to the original intent of Congress and the States in ratifying the 14th Amendment.
The consequences of this misinterpretation are indeed significant. Professors Peter Schuck and Rogers Smith have noted that:
"The present guarantee under American law of automatic birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens can operate…as one more incentive to illegal migration and violation by nonimmigrant aliens already here [.] When this attraction is combined with the powerful lure of the expanded entitlements conferred upon citizen children and their families by the modern welfare state, the total incentive effect of birthright citizenship may well become significant."
Current estimates indicate there may be between 287,000 and 726,000 anchor babies born each year in the U.S., thus causing illegal alien mothers to add more to the U.S. population each year than immigration from all sources in an average year prior to 1965.
The staggering cost of educating children of illegal alien parents runs into the billions of dollars, and this does not include the additional costs of bilingual education. As long ago as 1994, California paid for 74,987 deliveries to illegal alien mothers, at a massive cost of $215.2 million.
Illegal aliens are not eligible for welfare benefits, but their citizen children qualify for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and other benefits otherwise granted to US citizens. Based on data collected in California for AFDC's “children only” cases, the California Department of Social Services estimated that 193,800 children of illegal aliens received welfare, costing $553 million – and that was back in 1994-1995.
Although some experts believe that a Constitutional amendment would be necessary to remedy the misinterpretation, many believe that Congressional action would be sufficient and is urgently warranted. The 14th Amendment stipulates that Congress itself has the power to enforce its provisions by enactment of legislation, and the power to enforce a law is necessarily accompanied by the authority to interpret that law.
Therefore, an act of Congress stating its interpretation of the 14th Amendment as not to include the offspring of illegal aliens would certainly fall within Congress's prerogative. By deliberately not addressing this loophole, Congress in effect rewards lawbreakers and punishes those who have chosen to follow the rules and immigrate legally.
Birthright citizenship is an outdated, antiquated practice that has been abandoned by all other Westernized nations – including all of Europe – as well as most developing nations.
Millions of Americans have served in defense of the United States of America. Many have died to preserve the freedoms that we take for granted – freedoms granted to United States citizens by the U.S. Constitution. Granting birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens, whose first act in coming here is to break our laws, cheapens the meaning of our Constitution and the value of the lives lost fighting to preserve it.
For more detailed information on the costs of anchor babies along with references, see the 14th Amendment website: www.14thAmendment.us/birthright_citizenship/consequences.html
Professors Peter Schuck and Rogers Smith, "Consensual Citizenship" (Chronicles, July 1992)