By Jeremiah Jarmin
It may seem that the immigration debate was heated enough over Arizona’s new controversial immigration law, but the fire is really just getting started. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) are reviving a push to modify the 14th Amendment, the one that allows anyone born on United States soil to become a US citizen. And modify here means completely omit. While any change to the U.S. Constitution should be taken under careful advisement, this seems to be one of the more sensible and logical solutions to addressing the nation’s illegal immigration problem currently taxing social, medical, and law enforcement services.
The 14th Amendment is also referred to as one of the Reconstruction Amendments and is famous for its Due Process clause. It came into being just after the Civil War and its entire purpose was to ensure that freed slaves had rights after emancipation. The legislative intent behind the jus soli clause – the clause in danger of omission — was to overrule the Dred Scott decision which held that blacks were not, and could not, become citizens of the United States or enjoy any of the privileges or immunities of citizenship. Therefore, the jus soli clause guaranteed all slaves in the United States citizenship; because they were all born on US soil since slave trading had been outlawed in 1808.
The very author of the citizenship clause, Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan said, “This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” The jus soli clause was treated this way until 1898 when the court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark decided that the children of permanent legal residents fell under the clause as well. But the most significant change came in 1982 when the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that any and all people born in the United States were entitled to citizenship. This ruling runs completely contrary to the 14th Amendment’s intended effect. It is quite evident that the ratifiers of the 14th Amendment didn’t contemplate the law being used as an avenue for people from Brazil, China, Mexico, or any foreign country to hop on a boat or airplane to vacation in the United States or to jump the border illegally just to have a child endowed with citizenship.
Furthermore, the problem with the jus soli clause is that it contributes to a subversion of the democratic process. There is a serious problem when large groups of people enter our country illegally, and then by fortuitous circumstance, have children here granting them an entitlement to stay, as well as allowing their children to play a role in government. Society is changed inside out via the illegitimacy of ducking immigration procedure. Citizenship is not a part of natural law. Immigration laws are formed by the democratic process, but the teeth that enforce these laws may be destroyed by new voting blocs that attain power simply by being born here due to their parents violating those same laws to enter the country.
This issue should be of concern to everyone and should not be just limited to illegal immigrants from South America. What if fundamental Islamists decided to start employing the same tactics as illegal immigrants from Latin America? What if they entered the country illegally; had children here indoctrinated with an anti-American, anti-democratic, pro-Sharia ideology; and those children grew up to form a new large voting bloc?
In fairness to children that were born here to illegal immigrants and have lived in the country their entire lives, they and their parents should be granted permanent residency status. Some of them now are grown adults that have never spent a day in the countries of their parents; however, permanent residency status should be the solution, not citizenship.
Jeremiah Jarmin is a private-practice lawyer in Atlanta who writes and comments frequently about Georgia policy matters.