What does it mean to be a citizen? As the immigration debate heated up this summer, some Republican lawmakers proposed denying babies born of undocumented parents their birthright citizenship, a dangerous idea considering what it could mean for the civil liberties of all Americans.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
It’s part of a series of amendments with a focus on civil rights passed during Reconstruction after America’s bloody Civil War. Written to try and move the nation past a dark age in civil liberties highlighted by 1857’s Dred Scott decision denying citizenship to African Americans, the 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to any person born on U.S. soil. Today’s debate concerns these same fundamental issues — this time regarding the children of immigrants.
A study released this summer by the Pew Hispanic Center found that eight percent of babies born in the U.S. had at least one parent who was an undocumented immigrant at their time of birth. The debate gets heated when you consider the enormous numbers of people we are talking about.
There a reported 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., and the debate on how to best handle the situation of current and future immigrants has gone nowhere since President Barack Obama took office. But the question at the heart of birthright citizenship is whether children should be punished for the supposed crimes of their parents.