Republicans Question the “Birthright Issue”

The 14th Amendment (the “citizenship clause”) was enacted in 1868 to ensure that states would not deny citizenship to former slaves. It reads, “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.”

Recently, Republicans have been in the news as they have spurred debates in the capital about whether the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be repealed. Republican Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in particular, have led the rally. Kyl has called for congressional hearings to look into denying citizenship to those born in the U.S. to illegal aliens. Graham, a previous proponent of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, considered introducing an amendment to repeal the provision in the 14th amendment allowing for automatic citizenship for those born in the U.S. (with few exceptions, such as for children of diplomats). On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky joined the fray, also calling for congressional hearings. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that the hearings are purely for political reasons.

The challenge to the 14th amendment, or citizenship clause, goes against everything I’ve learned about the history and meaning behind the Constitution. The concept of jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is one of the country’s hallmarks, distinguishing it from the European continent, and making the U.S. an inclusive country.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, which held that “the Fourteenth Amendment extends to anyone, citizen or stranger, who is subject to the laws of a State, and reaches into every corner of a State’s territory, has already spoken to the matter. Texas officials in that case had argued that illegal immigrants were not “within the jurisdiction” of the state and could thus not claim protections under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court majority rejected this claim, finding instead that “no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment ‘jurisdiction’ can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful.” The court majority found that the Texas law was “directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control.” Indeed, the U.S., since the time of the Constitution, at least, has always stood for protecting the rights of those born in the U.S.

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