One of the most challenging issues in the national debate over illegal immigration is what to do about the children of such immigrants who gain automatic U.S. citizenship at birth.
Despite the wishes of anti-immigration extremists, the federal courts almost universally have agreed the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil except for the children of diplomats who have general immunity from all U.S. laws.
But it’s fair to say that this amendment and companion federal legislation, originally written to protect the basic rights of blacks after the Civil War, have led to a series of unintended consequences that complicates modern immigration policy.
The United States is in the minority among countries that grant automatic citizenship to native-born children of immigrants. So it’s healthy to debate at the federal level whether the 14th Amendment should be modified or redefined to eliminate this birthright.
What isn’t healthy or reasonable is for a state to attempt to deny the very existence of any baby born on our shores. This includes an initiative petition drive in Arizona that seeks to prevent the issuing of birth certificates for children of illegal immigrants.
The initiative’s chairwoman, Della Montgomery, told Tribune writer Mark Flatten for a Feb. 10 story that the goal behind this movement is to force an eventual showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court that could lead to a new interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Other Arizona measures on illegal immigration have fared well with the federal courts so far. But we’re highly skeptical that this issue would play out as neatly as its backers expect.
More importantly, a birth certificate is the touchstone for a child’s entire future by explaining his or her first moments in this world. A birth certificate doesn’t have to guarantee any legal rights. But a certificate does explain exactly where a person was born and which parents created this bundle of joy.
Reasonable people are weighing the best methods of enforcement to forcibly remove adult illegal immigrants or to encourage them to leave on their own, with or without their American-born children. This debate revolves largely around what’s likely to work without being overly burdensome on legal residents and what we can afford.
But a baby born to an illegal immigrant won’t suddenly disappear without a birth certificate, or become less of a concern for our society. Only the most cruel among us would suggest we should condemn a child to starvation or to a lack of shelter and medical care simply because they don’t have a certain government document.
At the same time, children of illegal immigrants would be punished for a parent’s crime, something that’s anathema to the American way, in a manner that would constantly disrupt their path from the schoolhouse to marriage to professional careers or vocations.
To refuse to issue a birth certificate is to say that we reject the limitless potential of an innocent child regardless of where he or she might be raised and later choose to live. Denial of a birth certificate implies this baby never should have been born.
It’s a morally wrong message of ill-intent that must be rejected by all people of good will, no matter where they stand on the larger question of illegal immigration.