Last night, on Fox Business Happy Hour, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) attempted to make the case for why the language of the 14th amendment — which states “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States” — should be “clarified” to exclude the children of immigrants. As evidence, Gohmert cited a conversation he had with a “lady on the plane” who told him that her son-in-law was with Hamas and was planning on having a child in the U.S. that Gohmert thinks will likely come back to “blow us up”:
BOLLING: We’re actually experiencing situations where dangerous countries al Qaeda will send a pregnant woman over here, have a baby, and then start to train these babies to be terrorists, is that right?
GOHMERT: Well, Eric, it’s not just a theory. It first came to my attention. Some of us were traveling to the Middle East last August, a year ago. And a lady on the plane was telling one of our group that they were about to have their second granddaughter. Her husband was with Hamas, her grand — I’m sorry her son-in-law was with Hamas. And that they were going to do with the second as they did with the first grandchild. Daughter is going to come to America right before it’s born on a tourist visa. Have the baby. They just like the option of having American citizens in the family. […]
We’re bringing them over here on tourist visas, some illegally, letting them be born here and saying this is an American citizen. So come back in 20, 25 years when you’re ready to blow us up.
Gohmert then went on to argue that “people are confused by the 14th amendment” and that the whole problem would be solved if a law was passed that says that anyone who comes on a visa is not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. According to Gohmert, this makes perfect sense because the “Constitution just anticipates different groups will have different rights.”
To begin with, since 9/11, travelers from most parts of the world who want to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa have to undergo a rigorous process just to obtain permission to enter the U.S. They must provide evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, submit fingerprints and photographs, and undergo an interview by a visa officer at the US Embassy. The requirements for anyone seeking to obtain a green card, which include a criminal background check, are even more stringent. And if Gohmert suspects the pregnant mothers of future terrorists are coming into the U.S. illegally, he may want to focus on fixing the broken immigration system rather than trying to rewrite the Constitution.
Ultimately, an isolated conversation with a “lady on the plane” on the way back from a first class trip to the Middle East doesn’t sound like a good reason to upend the 14th amendment. The Constitution is vague about a lot of things, however its citizenship clause is unambiguous. In an article released by the Center for American Progress, its authors argue “[e]leven years and a bloody Civil War later, when the framers of the 14th Amendment composed its text, they explicitly rejected the notion that America is a country club.” A couple centuries later, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly confirmed in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that anyone born in the United States would be a citizen regardless of their parents’ nationality.
Finally, mandating that anyone who comes to the U.S. on a visa is not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government would be a recipe for disaster. It would mean that, like diplomats, immigrants and tourists would enjoy legal immunity in the U.S. Their U.S. born children wouldn’t be citizens, but if they committed a crime — for example, a terrorist act — they would not be subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and legal authorities.