Yesterday, the Miami Herald reported that Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, plans on pushing a bill that would modify the 14th amendment to deny “birthright citizenship” to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.
In an interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer this morning, King explained just how he plans to go about radically changing citizenship requirements. According to King, it doesn’t involve a Constitutional amendment, but rather, simply reinterpreting the 14th amendment in a way that would treat undocumented immigrants like foreign diplomats and exclude them from being subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. laws:
HEMMER: The critics are going to say “why deny citizenship to a child?” Your argument is what?
KING: Well it’s really pretty simple. There is an industry that has grown up out of this that pregnant woman come into the United States illegally so that they can have a family that’s anchored to their citizenship and anchored to American benefits.
HEMMER: You can find countless examples of that I’m certain. […] But you would need a Constitutional amendment to do away with this. That is a huge mountain to climb.
KING: I don’t agree Bill. Let me say that when you look at the scholarship on this — and I don’t present myself as a lead scholar — but I listen to some of them however and I read the text of it: all persons born within the United States and subject to jurisdiction thereof shall be American citizens. […]
HEMMER: So you would argue that it’s the language and the interpretation of the amendment?
KING: I would say so. That clause is there. If it weren’t there, then I think they would have a case. But the proper way to go about this is: pass the law banning birthright citizenship and then certainly the people on the other side will litigate…and we’ll fight out on the other side of this what the will in the Supreme Court is.
To begin with, King’s claim that pregnant women are crossing the border into the U.S. in droves to have U.S. citizenship is unsubstantiated. Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that, though it exists, the trend is “not as dramatic as some immigration opponents have claimed.” Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Research Center, told The Associated Press that out of the 340,000 babies born to undocumented immigrants in the United States in 2008, 85 percent of the parents had been in the country for more than a year, and more than half for at least five years. They didn’t come to the U.S. just to wait five years to have a U.S. citizen child who they could “anchor” themselves to. They came to the U.S. to work, and over time, had families.
Furthermore, Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey explains that enforcement-only solutions like the ones King promotes only make the situation worse: “They [undocumented women] end up having babies in the United States because men can no longer circulate freely back and forth from homes in Mexico to jobs in the United States and husbands and wives quite understandably want to be together.”
Secondly, King clearly doesn’t understand the dangerous implications of mandating that anyone who comes to the U.S. illegally is not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. King’s interpretation of the 14th amendment could create a situation in which, rather than being legally defined and treated as removable “illegal aliens,” undocumented immigrants could only be declared personae non gratae — a legal term under international law used to refer to “unwelcome” foreigners, usually diplomats, who are inherently under the jurisdiction of their home governments.
The personae non grata designation is completely discretionary and “[e]xpulsion is not the automatic consequence of the declaration.” In other words, by reinterpreting the 14th amendment in the manner that King suggests, when undocumented immigrants (or their children under this new schema) commit a crime they are no longer subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and legal authorities. It’s hard to imagine King — or anyone else for that matter — would be on board with that.