WASHINGTON - State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a coalition of state legislators, today revealed their plan to challenge the 14th Amendment and the Constitutional definition of citizenship. Claiming that they need to correct a "monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment" and protect their states from the "illegal alien invasion," the legislators proposed model legislation intended to spark a new Supreme Court ruling to reinterpret the 14th Amendment. The action drew fire from a number of civil rights groups.
The model legislation attempts to create a new definition of "state citizenship" and narrow the categories of people who would be citizens at birth: only children born to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, national, or legal permanent resident would be considered citizens. The bill would also create a "state compact" requiring states to issue two different types of birth certificates: one for those considered "natural-born U.S. citizens" and another singling out those whom the state does not consider a citizen.
The following is a statement from Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council:
"The proposal presented today is clearly unconstitutional and an embarrassing distraction from the need to reform our nation's immigration laws. It constitutes a vicious assault on the U.S. Constitution and flies in the face of generations of efforts to expand civil rights. Moreover, it is an attack on innocent children born in the U.S. who would be confined to a new second-class citizenship and vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. While claiming to uphold the Constitution, these legislators have taken a clear stance against American values and principles. In the U.S. we have confirmed a tradition of liberty, equality and justice, where we are no more able to punish children for the actions of their parents than we are to pass titles of nobility down from one generation to the next.
"Denying citizenship to certain children born in the U.S. would not decrease unauthorized immigration; in fact it would increase the number of people in the U.S. without legal immigration status. Moreover, the impact of this misguided effort would be felt well beyond the undocumented population. Every American parent would have to prove the citizenship status of their children, requiring new documentation and a large government bureaucracy to sort through historical records, immigration documents, and international citizenship laws at taxpayer expense.
"We acknowledge that our immigration laws are badly broken, and we recognize that state and local legislators are frustrated by Congress's unwillingness to reform our immigration system. However, attacking constitutional citizenship is simply another distraction that moves us further away from addressing the real problems with our broken immigration system. Rather than challenging Congress to reinterpret the 14th amendment, we need to redouble the effort to reform our immigration laws."
The American Civil Liberties Union has called on state lawmakers to reject proposed legislation intended to deny Americans the fundamental protections of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU made the call after a group of state legislators announced they will introduce bills in their state legislatures that would do just that by requiring states to deny standard birth certificates to many U.S. citizen babies born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. The proposed legislation would also require all people in the U.S., whether citizens or not, to prove their status before they can receive a standard birth certificate for their baby. Currently, there is no such requirement. The proposed legislation directly contradicts the long-standing 14th Amendment guarantee that all people born in the U.S. and under its jurisdiction are citizens of the U.S. and the state in which they reside and subject to equal protection under the law.
If enacted, the bills are unlikely to survive legal scrutiny since the Constitution can only be changed by amendment, not by state or federal statute.
"Who can be a citizen of the United States and enjoy the equal protection of the law should never be subject to the political and discriminatory whims of the day," said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Project. "The 14th Amendment's birthright guarantee was born in response to the slavery and pervasive discrimination of the 19th century in order to remove race from considerations of citizenship. The fact that legislators are still trying to undermine the citizenship of some Americans shows that the 14th Amendment is clearly as relevant and vital today as it was a hundred years ago."
Adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment negated one of the Supreme Court's most infamous rulings, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that neither freed slaves nor their descendants could ever become citizens. The Amendment, which conferred the rights of citizenship on all who were born in this country, including freed slaves, was enacted in response to laws passed by the former Confederate states that prevented African Americans from entering professions, owning or leasing land, accessing public accommodations, serving on juries and voting.
"It would be hard to concoct a proposal that is more misguided and contrary to the sacrosanct guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Equality under the law for every person born in the United States is one of the Constitution's central engines of equality and fundamental to our society. The ACLU will challenge any law that erodes the constitutional guarantee of citizenship. These laws cannot survive constitutional scrutiny," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "In America, our rights do not depend on our parents' status or ancestry."
In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the guarantee of the 14th Amendment and affirmed the fundamental principle that children born on American soil are U.S. citizens without regard to their parents' status. In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Court held that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese parents who were subjects of China and were prohibited by law from becoming U.S. citizens was a citizen at birth under the 14th Amendment. This principle has been the settled law of the land for more than a century.
NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, today called recent proposals to repeal the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment—which confers citizenship on all persons born on U.S. soil—“inflammatory, impractical, and immoral.”
“These thoughtless and unnecessary proposals take our country in the wrong direction, away from inclusion and our other core American values,” stated Janet Murguía, NCLR President and CEO. “The citizenship clause is a bedrock principle of civil rights and part of what makes us all Americans. Never in our nation’s history have we amended the Constitution to take away someone’s rights and we should not do so now.”
“These proposals are inflammatory. Those seeking to decimate the 14th Amendment know that their attempts are constitutionally dubious at best, but they are definitely irresponsible and divisive, guaranteed to make many of our fellow Americans suspect in their own land.
“They are impractical. These approaches would throw hospitals, families, and society into chaos, requiring the government to come into every delivery room to determine the paternity of the child and the status of his or her parents.
“And these proposals are immoral. They would undermine our nation’s commitment to equality under the law, taking us down a slippery slope where the law permits distinctions based on ancestry, race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics.
“Proponents of this idea would have you believe that their proposals are simple, uncomplicated, and an easy fix to a problem. But there is nothing simple about taking away a right that millions of Americans fought and died for in the Civil War. There is nothing uncomplicated about an assault on our Constitution. And this is no solution,” concluded Murguía.
The League of United Latin American Citizens today denounced efforts by a handful of state legislators to violate the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution with various illegal big government schemes to deny citizenship to all children born in the United States.
“LULAC strongly opposes efforts by some state legislators to violate the 14th amendment and to deny citizenship to children born in the United States,” stated Margaret Moran, LULAC National President. “We are extremely concerned that the illegal state schemes being proposed today will lead to a permanent underclass of easily exploited undocumented workers in our country…something that all Americans should oppose.”
Birthright citizenship is the law of the land, enshrined in the 14th Amendment and upheld by the Supreme Court in several key decisions since. At stake in this debate is whether states should uphold the rule law or violate federal supremacy laws and the 14th Amendment through big government schemes that will harm all the residence in their state. If these legislators were to succeed, every parent would need to prove to skeptical government bureaucrats that their children are entitled to the twisted definitions of U.S. Citizenship that each state could, at their option, contrive to adopt.
Furthermore, eliminating birthright citizenship would not do anything to solve the problem of undocumented immigration to the United States. On the contrary the number of undocumented people living in the US would grow every year in perpetuity and the United States would quickly develop into a caste society with an exploited undocumented working caste without any rights whatsoever and a privileged citizen caste who would control government and make rules to benefit themselves. The founding fathers dream of an egalitarian society would be dead and the United States would begin to resemble the old European feudal system that our system of government was designed to replace.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization in the country, advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs operating through 880 LULAC councils nationwide.