Just in time for the summer, Arizona is introducing a new term to mainstream vernacular: “anchor babies.”
Sure, the term conjures up images of tots in little sailor caps, playfully dumping sand on each other and trying to maneuver little plastic boats through makeshift moats. But on the political scene, “anchor babies” is a term that could not be farther from the image of a happy toddler in the sun. It’s used to refer to children of undocumented imnmigrants who were born in the US -- children who are seen as “legal weights” holding the "illegal" parents in America.
Riding on the momentum of Senate Bill 1070, Arizona Republicans, led by state senator Russell Pearce (pictured above), are planning to introduce a bill this fall that would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the US. A TIME article published last week says that “While [Senate Bill 1070] essentially requires of-age migrants to have the proper citizenship paperwork, the potential ‘anchor baby’ bill blocks the next generation from ever being able to obtain it. The idea is to make the citizenship process so difficult that illegal immigrants pull up the anchor and leave.”
I’m not saying that undocumented immigration is not a problem, but there are many things wrong with this proposal. Let’s take a look back in American history.
After the Civil War, the citizenship status of freed slaves who were born in the U.S. was uncertain. The 14th Amendment answered the conundrum by providing citizenship for freed slaves and gave the federal government control over citizenship. The amendment states that “All persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” The last time I checked, Arizona is a state, and kids born in the US are citizens.
Sure, you can argue that this amendment was passed in 1868, and so the times have changed and so forth. But you know what, the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) was adopted in 1791, and you can make the same argument that times have changed and this amendment is no longer pertinent. So where’s the great rush to change the Second Amendment, and any other amendment that appear outdated?
The debate over birthright citizenship has come up before, especially in light of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from entering the country and denied naturalization to immigrants who were already present. (The act was eventually overturned in 1943.)
During this period under the Chinese Exclusion Act, the case of United States V. Wong Kim Ark appeared before the Supreme Court in 1898 to determine if a person born in the US to foreign parents was, in fact, an American citizen. Wong was born in San Francisco to parents who couldn’t obtain citizenship because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After travelling to China, Wong was denied entry back into the US under the premise that he was not a citizen because his parents weren’t. The Supreme Court upheld the Fourteenth Amendment on a 6-2 ruling saying that “a child born in the United States, of parents of foreign descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the foreign power, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the foreign power, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.”
Basically, the Supreme Court was like, “Born in America = Born with American rights.” Furthermore, the decision held that the Constitution overrides all Congressional acts. Just because the Chinese were legally excluded from entering the country or becoming naturalized didn’t mean that Chinese babies born in the US were exempt from having Constitutional rights. So in this case, even if the Arizona bill passes, the Constitution would still have the ultimate say in the matter.
Immigration reform is an issue that requires serious thought and discussion; it’s not something that can be fixed by a slapdash attempt to override the Constitution. Regardless of your political leanings, trampling over a Constitutional amendment to suit one party’s political ambitions is a dangerous precedent to set. Time and time again in our history, we’ve turned to the Constitution to make sure that people’s rights would not be shucked left and right by the hot political trend of the moment. Arizona Republicans talk about “taking back America” -- well, what’s more American than upholding the Constitution?
Do you think the proposal against anchor babies sinks or swims? Sound off.