Thursday, August 12, 2010

Politics and the 14th Amendment -- Aug. 12, 2010 column


To hear Senate Republicans, pregnant women around the world can’t hop on planes fast enough to get to the United States to give birth. Their babies then become instant American citizens, thanks to the 14th Amendment.

This is a problem, the men say. Here’s Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.: “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the (14th) amendment had in mind, but I doubt that it was somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised the specter of rich foreign women going to resorts to “drop” their babies on American soil.

“You come to a resort, you have your child at a hospital within the resort [and] that child is an American citizen,” Graham said in an interview with Fox News. And then there are the “thousands of people coming across the Arizona-Texas border for the express purpose of having a child in an American hospital so the child will become an American citizen,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have suggested it’s time to reconsider the wisdom of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868 to ensure that freed slaves and their descendants had full rights and protections as citizens.

“I think we ought to take a look at it – hold hearings, listen to the experts on it,” McConnell told The Hill newspaper.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a change in birthright citizenship, however. What’s going on here is more politics than policy.

The situation is not exactly as the politicians present it. Imagine that in an election year.

A new Pew Hispanic Center study did find that 8 percent of newborns in the United States in 2008 had at least one parent who was an illegal immigrant, a statistic that is sure to inflame anti-immigration sentiments.

But the report’s analysis, which was based on Census Bureau figures, also said that 80 percent of the mothers had lived in this country for more than a year, and more than half had lived here five years or longer.

Despite all the rhetoric, nobody expects a serious run at the 14th Amendment, the salient part of which reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”

And yet, GOP candidates seem intent on outdoing each other to prove their toughness on the issue. A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Wyoming, Rita Meyer, even wants to see the children of illegal aliens deported along with their parents.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to favor tougher immigration laws, but even among Republicans there’s no great groundswell of public opinion for changing the 14th Amendment.

Measures to do so previously have failed in Congress. There’s a dispute over whether ending birthright citizenship requires amending the Constitution, but passing an amendment is very difficult. It requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Several public opinion surveys have asked if the Constitution should be amended to bar citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, and overall responses split about 50-50. Republicans are warmer to the idea than Democrats, but they are not overwhelming.

What’s more significant than the party divide is that people under 50 view the country very differently than their elders.

Younger people are far less inclined to change the Constitution to end birthright citizenship than older people. Only 30 percent of those 18 to 29 favored a constitutional change to end birthright citizenship. Slightly more, 38 percent, of people 30 to 49 favored a constitutional change. Among people 50 to 64 and over 65, though, roughly half supported the change, according to Pew.

Similarly, younger people are less supportive of Arizona’s immigration law than older Americans, polls have found.

Differences in attitude are understandable, given the country’s demographics. While Hispanics are 34 percent of the general population, they make up only 7 percent of the population over 65. The Census Bureau projects that Hispanics will be 20 percent of the elderly population in 2050.

The country’s attitude toward immigrants evolves with each new citizen born.

© Marsha Mercer 2010. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Ms Mercer for a thoughtful presentation of the l4th Amendment birth citizenship issue. We agree with you that amending the l4th Amendment is not going to happen this year and if it doesn't happen this year it will not happen in the foreseeable future, given the expected changes in the Hispanic demographic. We wonder why the Republicans are pushing this issue. It is a loser for them.

    Good work, Marsha Mercer. Your column covers the issue nicely and your presentation is interesting and well written. Bravo.