Thursday, August 27, 2015

The 14th Amendment – My perspective

There has been a great deal in the news lately about the 14th Amendment.  Several political figures have grabbed headlines by demanding that we do away with something called “Birthright Citizenship” which is a right granted to all Americans through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

For those of you a little rusty on your high school civics, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868, and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law" or to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Fourteenth Amendment provides that children born in the United States become American citizens regardless of the citizenship of their parents.

The exact language of the Amendment is lengthy, but section 1 states:
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. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

According to the New York Times, “Several G.O.P. candidates, including Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker, have joined Donald Trump in calling for an end to this rule (of birthright citizenship) — or at the very least questioning it — as part of their immigration platforms.”

Instead of addressing the specific issue of illegal immigration and offering solutions, these candidates are now even questioning the legal status of individuals born here.  The absurd irony of this conversation is that some of these candidates were themselves the beneficiary of the Birthright Citizenship.

I have had a few conversations with my own father, who also enjoyed the benefit of Birthright Citizenship.  My paternal grandmother emigrated here from Ireland.  She did have a required visa to visit, but she stayed well beyond the time limit of her visa; in fact, she never actually left.  After arriving here, she became pregnant with and had my father, but she was not a citizen at the time.  My father is a first generation American.  He fought in World War II and later became a New York City Police Detective.  My father is in the group that is often referred to as the ‘Greatest Generation’.  He is also what many have called ‘Anchor babies.’  He is not what many would typically think of when discussing anchor babies, but nonetheless, he is one, and so are millions of other Americans whose families came here looking for a better life.  There are no exact counts on the number of U.S. children with parents who are in the U.S. illegally.  

Many politicians have speculated about this desire to have children in the U.S. so they will become citizens, and they claim it is driving our out of control immigration problem, but the evidence does not seem to support this idea.  If having a baby was a significant driving factor in illegal immigration, you would expect to see a higher percentage of women of child-bearing age in the U.S. illegally compared to men of the same age. In fact, just the opposite is the case. Numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center show that in four separate age ranges between 20 and 40, undocumented men significantly outnumber undocumented women.

Living in Arizona, the issue of immigration comes up often in conversations.  There are a multitude of opinions, but if we look back at our 200+ years as a nation we can clearly see that immigration is a huge part of our history.  Not only was my father a first generation American, but my mother was only a second generation American.  We do need to address the problem of illegal immigration, but denying citizenship to those born here is not the answer.  It is important to understand that the 14th Amendment was added specifically to ensure the rights of former slaves who were denied citizenship.  Despite the political posturing and rhetoric, changing the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote in Congress, then ratification from three-fourths of state legislatures.  Challenging and overturning this amendment is not only a highly unlikely and very difficult task, but it would be a huge leap backward for our country. 


  1. I think many people are frustrated by the failures of our politicians. And those frustrations are being focused at easy targets - illegal immigrants. Seriously, I'd rather have dinner with an illegal immigrant than with a politician. I think on the whole, they are more trustworthy.

  2. Well said. I get so frustrated with the immigration political battle. I have taught many, many immigrants in my twelve years of teaching, and for the most part at some point in our individual family history we all emigrated here. People think immigrants come here to "mooch" off the system when most immigrants I've worked with are harder workers than most generational Americans. Great piece.