14th Amendment and anchor babies

Published 9:05 am Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dred Scott decision is often used when arguing the purpose of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. But, actually, the 14th Amendment was designed precisely to undo the Dred Scott decision — in that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution made sure citizenship rights were guaranteed to freed slaves. The then-Republican administration was motivated by the fear that if freed slaves could not vote, only Democrats would be returned to Congress from states of the old Confederacy. The 14th Amendment was never intended to grant citizenship to persons who entered the country illegally — at that time there were no restrictions on immigration.

An ample body of legal scholarship regarding the citizenship clause in the 14th Amendment indicates that it could be altered by federal statute without amending the Constitution. For example, Congress could pass a statute stipulating that, for a person born in the United States to acquire citizenship at birth, at least one parent must be either a citizen or a lawful resident.

Very few countries, if any, emulate the anachronistic U.S. practice — and for good reason. In the case of the United States, it is a powerful incentive for young women to enter the country illegally, give birth, and then use these “anchor babies” as a rationale for remaining in the country in violation of U.S. law and then calling for their extended family to enter.

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Paul Westrum

Albert Lea