Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and David Vitter of Louisiana, both Republicans, announced a resolution that would amend the Constitution to deny birthright citizenship to babies born to undocumented immigrants. But legal experts say the effort stands little chance of succeeding.
“The framers of the Constitution made it very difficult to ratify it,” said Kevin R. Johnson, the dean of the University of California-Davis School of Law and an immigration and civil rights expert. “It’s a long process that would have to occur for a Constitutional amendment to, first, be acted upon by Congress, and then approved by the states.
Only babies born in the United States who have at least one parent who is a legal resident, native-born or naturalized citizen, or an active member of the Armed Forces would automatically be U.S. citizens, according to the resolution.
“For too long,” said Vitter in a statement, “our nation has seen an influx of illegal aliens entering our country at an escalating rate, and chain migration is a major contributor to this rapid increase, which is only compounded when the children of illegal aliens born in the U.S. are granted automatic citizenship.”
Paul, a Tea Party favorite, added: "Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits."
But Johnson points out (correctly), that citizenship is not a privilege, but “a right."
"It’s constitutionally guaranteed,” he said. “The senators seek to take away a right that has been bestowed faithfully since the Civil War.”
More states are likely to be dealing with birthright citizenship measures in coming months, said Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, founder of State Legislators for Legal Immigration. Metcalfe and other state legislators held a press conference in Washington D.C. in early January to announce a campaign to end birthright citizenship, saying that it encourages people to come here illegally so they can have U.S.-born babies.
César Perales, the president of LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, a Hispanic organization that has vowed to mount a court challenge to any birthright citizenship measure that passes, termed the legislative efforts “a racist move” and anti-Latino.
“This country has a had a long history of using its immigration laws to deny people citizenship,” he said, likening the resolution by Paul and Vitter to the Chinese Exclusion Act. “I don’t think anyone would have even thought of introducing such legislation when we had undocumented people from Europe in large numbers.”
“And to suddenly decide you’re going to deny it because a majority of the undocumented people in the country are Latinos raises obvious questions,” Perales said.
“Why now?" he added. "Why is it today a privilege to get automatic citizenship, and not when the babies of undocumented were Irish or Italian?”
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