Friday, August 13, 2010

The Fourteenth Amendment

Image credit: National Archives

Media Matters for America did an excellent job of researching the origins and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which some anti-immigration proponents have asserted wasn't meant to cover children of foreigners. Here is the text of the part of that amendment that applies to citizenship:

1. 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.

U.S. Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment

As several of the sources cited by MMA note, the language is clear and unambiguous. It does not make exceptions for those born to foreigners, or to those whose parents were somehow criminals. There was considerable debate over these words, and, not surprisingly, historians and legal scholars have noted this:

Colombia University historian Eric Foner stated during the August 2 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees that it's "not true" that the 14th Amendment was not intended to apply to the children of aliens, adding, "The 14th Amendment was debated for months, and the wording was very, very carefully worked out. If they had meant to exclude any kind of people, aliens, children of aliens, they would have done so."
James C. Ho, the solicitor general of Texas who previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, worked in the Bush administration, and served as chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), wrote in 2006 [(PDF)] that "no Senator disputed the meaning of the amendment with respect to alien children" and "nothing in text or history suggests that the drafters intended to draw distinctions between different categories of aliens."

Fox promotes false claim that 14th Amendment was not meant to apply to children of immigrants

Anyone who wonders about such claims should read this article.

Note that there are also people who maintain that the Constitution should be amended to exclude children born of illegal immigrants. That's another argument altogether. I don't agree with it, but factually their basic position is correct - the Constitution would have to be amended. Whether that is wise is another discussion. Personally, I don't think it is, partly because it makes the definition of citizenship more complicated, and serves to take away peoples' rights.

That is, however, an argument for another day. On the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment's definition of citizenship was meant to apply to the children of immigrants or foreigners, the answer is clearly that it was.

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