WASHINGTON - A group of civil and human rights organizations and legal scholars has announced the formation of a new coalition, called Americans for Constitutional Citizenship (ACC), to fight efforts at the state and federal level to undermine the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship for all persons born in the U.S. This includes recently announced attempts by a group of state legislators to push state-level legislation to deny the privileges of U.S citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.
“For the first time since the end of the Civil War, these legislators want to pass state laws that would create two tiers of citizens – a modern-day caste system – with potentially of millions of natural-born Americans being treated as somehow less than entitled to the equal protection of the laws that our nation has struggled so hard to guarantee,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The purported purpose of this insidious proposal is to help reform our nation’s immigration system. But the real purpose in creating a two-tiered group of citizens is something far darker, far more divisive and we believe, decidedly un-American.”
The American Citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment states explicitly that “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.” The 14th Amendment also forbids any state from abridging the “privileges or immunities of citizens” and from denying to any person the “equal protection of the laws.”
The 14th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War and in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which sought to deny full citizenship to African Americans. Constitutional citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment was intended to put citizenship above the preferences and prejudices of any politician or era, and to ensure that all those born on U.S. soil are treated equally with rights of citizenship that no government may abridge.
"What Mr. Kovac and his allies announced today is appalling. Indeed, they would drag us back to a time when minorities were not considered equal to Whites, not worthy of being citizens. While their language is more carefully chosen than that used a century ago, their motives are no less clear,” said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center. “Many Americans have fought, sacrificed and died to deliver on the promise of equality in the 14th Amendment. This debate is about our values as Americans and the wisdom of undermining the principle that is at the very heart of our Constitution.”
Congress intended the amendment to resolve not only the status of African Americans and their descendants, but also to apply to members of all racial groups and immigrants. The question was debated, and delegates who sought to exclude the children of Chinese immigrants or others from U.S. citizenship lost the debate. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, including most notably United States v. Wong Kim Ark, have upheld this interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
“The decision in Wong Kim Ark represents a key advancement in the Asian immigrant community’s struggle for inclusion in American society,” said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center. “Many Americans have fought, sacrificed and died to deliver on the promise of equality in the 14th Amendment. This debate is about our values as Americans and the wisdom of undermining the principle that is at the very heart of our Constitution.”
However, the state legislators, led by lead proponent of Arizona’s anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 Russell Pierce, argue that the amendment was never intended to cover the children of undocumented immigrants.
“The ACC stands committed to oppose – in the strongest possible terms – any legislation at the state or federal level that would seek to undermine the citizenship guarantee of the American Constitution,” said Henderson.