After the vast majority of Republicans voted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to oppose President Obama’s immigration actions, and with Republicans blocking any hope of real immigration reform this Congress, it seems the anti-immigrant movement has instead decided to refocus its efforts on revoking the constitutional right to birthright citizenship.
Earlier this week, Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana decided to introduce a birthright citizenship amendment to the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. The amendment so far has just one cosponsor – Sen. David Perdue of Georgia – and it’s unlikely that it will be included in the final bill, but this decision to tack an unconstitutional, anti-immigrant measure onto an important bill shows the priorities of Sen. Vitter and the Republican Party.
Sen. Vitter claims that his birthright citizenship amendment would help curb the issue of “birth tourism,” recently in the news surrounding Chinese mothers coming to California – often committing crimes in the process – so their children can be born in the U.S. It would seem more sensible to tackle this issue through targeting the middlemen who NBC reports “pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free,” and the visa, tax, and marriage fraud that are often a key part of “birth tourism.” Instead, Sen. Vitter and the many Republicans who support ending birthright citizenship are trying to use the issue as cover for their attacks on immigrants and attempts to revoke a core constitutional right.
The flaws of the conservative attacks on birthright citizenship have been well documented. First, it’s blatantly unconstitutional. It’s clear that the drafters of the 14th Amendment intended it to guarantee citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. The only exception – in the words of one of the amendment drafter’s, Sen. Jacob Howard – is for people “who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States,” as they are not, as the 14th Amendment requires, “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. Conservatives from Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush adviser, to the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs have viewed attempts to undermine birthright citizenship as unconstitutional.
It’s also a terrible idea. Gerson wrote, “Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law breaking, not to exclude Hispanics. But revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’–arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.” The Migration Policy Institute also found that rather than decreasing the number of undocumented immigrants in America, as birthright citizenship activists claim, revoking the right would “likely increase dramatically” the number of people in the country without authorization, leading to the “establishment of a permanent class of unauthorized persons.”
Sen. Vitter is not the only Republican promoting anti-immigrant bills instead of trying for real, bipartisan solutions on immigration. In January of this year, Rep. Steve King of Iowa re-introduced a bill aiming to repeal birthright citizenship. Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Rep. Mike Coffman, and Rep. Joe Heck have all backed plans to revoke birthright citizenship in the past.
We need immigration reform. From improving the economy while reducing the deficit to ensuring that DREAMers and their families can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation, the benefits are endless. Not only have Republicans blocked comprehensive immigration reform when it had a real chance of passing, they’re now trying yet again to bring up unconstitutional bills to drive their point home. That’s not what responsible governing looks like, and for a party that says they’re trying to attract more Latino support, they’re certainly not shy about attacking immigrants for short-term political gain.