Birthright Bigots: More Dangerous Than They Seem

By Miguel Perez

January 17, 2011 6 min read

They are the champions of the Constitution — at least, that's what they tell us — yet they keep looking for ways to violate it. They hold the patent on family values — at least, that's the impression they try to give — yet they believe in punishing children for the conduct of their parents. They claim to be fiscal conservatives, yet they are willing to waste millions on dead-end lawsuits. They say they are only against illegal immigrants, yet now they are waging war on U.S.-born babies.

Those who support the movement to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants are not only America's biggest hypocrites but also downright un-American!

On this issue, the Constitution couldn't be clearer. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

That's it! Case closed, right?

Nah! Not if you are a xenophobia-baiting constitutional hypocrite. They are willing to bend the Constitution until it breaks, as long as they can continue to pursue their Draconian, immigrant-bashing agenda.

How else could we explain the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011? This legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by four Republican right-wing extremists Jan. 6 (the first day of the 112th Congress), is a blatant effort to tweak the Constitution without having to amend it!

Many pundits, Democrats and even immigrant rights advocates seem to be unaware of the real danger this bill represents. They assume — as sane people would — that a new constitutional amendment would be necessary to overturn the 14th Amendment and take away citizenship from the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Thus — because that's an arduous and nearly impossible process, requiring three-quarters of the 50 states to ratify a joint resolution of Congress — they don't take the threat very seriously.

But that's not what the birthright extremists want. They want to overturn the Constitution without having to amend it — an end run around the 14th Amendment — and amazingly, they could actually get away with it!

Their game plan is to change the interpretation of "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" and use another part of the 14th Amendment to justify their Machiavellian intentions to take away the citizenship rights of U.S.-born children.

Section 5 of the 14th Amendment notes that "the Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article," and the birthright bigots intend to use "appropriate legislation" to redefine the interpretation of "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" and make sure it excludes the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants — the ones they call anchor babies.

The bill notes that "a person born in the United States shall be considered 'subject to the jurisdiction' of the United States" only if at least one of the parents is a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident or "an alien performing active service in the armed forces."

It would not be retroactive and would not affect the many Americans who were already born of two undocumented parents. But they will argue that from now on, illegal immigrants should somehow bequeath their illegal status to their U.S.-born children.

Isn't that special? Some Americans now are thinking of clever ways to deprive other Americans of their citizenship.

Of course, the words "subject to the jurisdiction" need no clarification because they were well-understood during the post-Civil War debate that led to the 14th Amendment. In spite of the current media-promoted myth that the amendment was meant solely to address the status of former slaves, in spite of the right-wing extremists who want us to believe it had one single purpose, the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction" also was meant to settle the status of the children of diplomats, Native Americans and former Confederate soldiers who had renounced their U.S. citizenship to serve in the Confederate army.

For practical reasons, the 14th Amendment was a "bright line" and inclusive compromise, consistent with our best American traditions.

Yet now, un-American xenophobes claim that it was only meant to affect former slaves and that our 143-year history of recognizing all U.S.-born children as Americans must be overturned.

However, they have no intentions of seeking a constitutional amendment, not when they think they can achieve the same mean-spirited objective merely by changing a statute.

The birthright citizenship bill, with 33 co-sponsors, is now in the House Judiciary Committee, where it could linger indefinitely but from where it could suddenly emerge, tucked into some huge and necessary spending bill, forcing reasonable legislators to go along with it.

Beware. Alert citizens can stop this from happening, but only if they remain vigilant of the Machiavellian maneuvers of the extreme right. This should be about Americans protecting other Americans from having their most precious constitutional right taken away by shoddy legislative tricks.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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