The 14th Amendment states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States..." Recently, there has been renewed debate about whether birthright citizenship should be granted to U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Restrictionist lawmakers have proposed a variety of measures to eliminate birthright citizenship. Some Republican Congressmen have proposed amending the Constitution. Others have proposed limiting birthright citizenship to children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents by legislation, which would go beyond keeping the children of undocumented immigrants from citizenship and would affect the children of anyone in a lawful status, including H-1Bs, L-1s, E-2s, and many others. Many of the concerns about birthright citizenship are based on the myth that undocumented immigrants benefit from having U.S.-citizen children. Leaving aside the constitutional arguments against birthright citizenship, we believe that eliminating birthright citizenship is bad policy.
Much of the current debate stems from the common misunderstanding that undocumented immigrants benefit from having U.S.-citizen children, but the so called “anchor baby” phenomenon is really a myth. Undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children are not protected from deportation. In fact, every year the government deports thousands of undocumented immigrants in spite of the fact that they have U.S. citizen children. Remember all of the criticism the Obama administration received for breaking up families by deporting parents of U.S. citizen children?
The reality is that U.S. citizen children are not permitted to sponsor their parents for legal status until the child turns 21. And if the parents have violated their status by entering without inspection or by overstaying, they would need to leave the country for 10 years before they would be eligible to return as permanent residents. So, as a practical matter, that means that parents would not be able to benefit from having a child born in the U.S. for well over 20 years- an extremely unlikely occurrence.
The bottom line is that immigrants come to the U.S. to work, to flee persecution, or to reunite with family members in the U.S., not to have U.S. citizen children. So eliminating birthright citizenship will not deter unlawful immigration. Instead of concocting measures to eliminate the (mis)conceived benefits of birthright citizenship, lawmakers should focus on crafting real solutions to the country's immigration system; solutions that address the labor needs of the country and provide for the reunification rather than separation of families.