Attempt to Abolish Birthright Citizenship Newest Expression of Anti-Immigrant Fervor in US

February 7, 2011

So SB 1070 wasn't inhumane enough. Not only should undocumented immigrants live in fear of constant deportation at a moment's notice, away from their families and children -- legislators have realized that their anti-immigrant crusade can extend specifically to children, too: Republicans Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Rand Paul of Kentuck argue that the 14th Amendment be itself amended: they propose that birthright citizenship be abolished altogether.

The plan is this. If children born in the United States no longer acquire citizenship, merely by dint of birth, then undocumented immigrants can't plant "anchor babies" on American soil, to help them gain citizenship too -- or, in the extreme case, to germinate into possible terrorists. So close the constitution's "loophole," Vitter and Paul exclaim, along with many others -- an absurdity, given that the 14th amendment has been interpreted as conferring citizenship to everyone born in the US since 1868. Otherwise, says Arizona state Republican Representative John Kavanagh, children of undocumented immigrants will continue to win a free "door prize" for being born in the US.

So, according to Kavanagh, and clearly every other supporter of the bill, a child is awarded a prize that he does not deserve, because neither of his or her parents are citizens. But children of citizens don't "deserve" citizenship either. It is merely granted to them, by law. It is nefarious to claim that children of undocumented immigrants are somehow blameworthy, or not deserving of citizenship as much as their American peers. It makes no sense to blame them -- they didn't "do" anything! And, if it is instead the parent's fault for giving birth in the US, then their children should not have to pay as a result. Any child born in the US is identical to every other, whether documented or undocumented, citizen or non-citizen, in that no child "deserves" to be a citizen any more than another.

Moreover, having children that are citizens does not confer on their parents any special advantages or rights anyway. Parents if they are undocumented can still be deported, for example, and are, every year, in large numbers. And the "anchor baby" claim is a hoax: children must be 21 to petition for citizenship for their parents anyway, so it's unreasonable for undocumented immigrants to have children in the US in the hopes of also gaining citizenship -- they'd have to wait at least 21 years. 

In any case, the proposal to abolish birthright citizenship also importantly applies to documented immigrants, even green card holders. So even children of fully legal immigrants should not, according to the bill, become citizens either. Ironically, the bill therefore has the potential to increase the size of America's undocumented population dramatically over time, as future children of immigrants fail to acquire citizenship at birth.

The bill is one of a series of increasingly outright xenophobic bills to be considered by legislatures around the country. The latest is Arizona's HB 2281 bill, which outlaws the teaching of ethnic studies courses at public schools. Not even the birthright bill is so insidious -- HB 2281, now in effect as Arizona law, prohibits the very teaching of courses about different ethnic communities.

Since the bill aims to amend the US Constitution, however, it will encounter opposition at the federal level and will likely not pass. But the audacity of legislators, to put forth a bill to abolish birthright citizenship, is itself a cause for alarm. For it an expression of growing anti-immigrant fervor not just in Arizona but nationwide, as other states express interest in passing similar legislation elsewhere.


Saif Ansari


Saif Ansari graduated recently from UCLA with a BA in philosophy and is now an MA student at NYU, also in philosophy. He is interested mostly in political philosophy, ethics and law. Saif wrote for two years as a columnist for UCLA's student-run newspaper The Daily Bruin. He wrote for and edited several other publications at UCLA and maintains a personal blog at Follow him on Twitter @vetoshield.