Last week, Wonk Room reported that the Arizona lawmaker, state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), who introduced the state’s new immigration law, SB-1070, is already planning his next legislative effort: “target the [immigrant] mother” by going after the “anchor baby racket.” “Anchor babies” is a derogatory and “politically charged” term used to refer to the U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents. Pearce wants to essentially overturn the 14th amendment by no longer granting citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born on U.S. soil. Today, Pearce appeared on MSNBC defending his upcoming legislation:
It’s an unconstitutional declaration of citizenship to those born here to those who are here illegally. It’s absolutely outrageous. It’s in violation of the 14th Amendment. Do you know the Congress had to act three times to recognize the citizenship of the indians? There’s no doubt where they were born at. [...] Because there was a concern over their jurisdiction and allegiance because they are part of an indian nation. It’s the same thing. I mean, common sense here. Just a little common sense would help.
The 14th amendment clearly states that “[a]ll 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.” Pearce is right that Native Americans were once denied citizenship under the 14th amendment — but the claim doesn’t provide much support for his circular argument. Up until about a century ago, Native American tribes were viewed as being largely outside the “jurisdiction” of the U.S. government — which simply means not subject to its complete control. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 overturned the provision and granted full U.S. citizenship to the nation’s Native Americans. Since children of foreign diplomats are largely exempt from U.S. laws, they still do not receive U.S. citizenship if they are born in the country. However, no one can argue that immigrants — regardless of their status — are subject to the U.S. legal system. The Center for American progress writes “if the United States lacks ‘jurisdiction’ over the children of immigrants then it would also mean the U.S. government is powerless to deport those individuals or to punish them for crimes committed within the United States.” Such a suggestion is just as ridiculous as Pearce’s own reasoning, which basically suggests that the language of the constitution is unconstitutional on its face.
Pearce also erroneously claimed today that the U.S. is the “only country” to grant citizenship to those born within its borders. However, “birthright citizenship,” as it is called, is rooted in English common law. Nations that observe birthright citizenship include Canada, Brazil, and Mexico. The Center for American Progress examined the effect that stringent citizenship requirements have had on Germany — which does not grant citizenship at birth. The report attributes the income and educational disparities between the German-born children of immigrants and native Germans, in part, to the country’s citizenship laws. The report also found that countries like Germany are still bearing “consequences of that epic mistake today.”
The concept of birthright citizenship has also been upheld by U.S. courts. In The United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone born in the United States would be a citizen regardless of their parents’ nationality.