Legal View: Make birthright law fix part of U.S. immigration reforms

By Allen Greenberg
The Daily Record Newswire

The idea that an infant born to a foreign mother in the United States should be entitled to instantaneous U.S. citizenship is outdated, unworkable and costing American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

It’s time to make a change in our birthright laws. Many others already have. In fact, we’re one of the few countries that continue to grant citizenship to all children born on its soil. The United Kingdom, Ireland, India and Australia, among others, no longer automatically allow children delivered within their borders to obtain automatic citizenship.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., created a stir by suggesting that our reading of the 14th Amendment might be in need of an overhaul.

He was right to suggest the issue needs to be addressed, but wrong about fiddling with the 14th.

The amendment, ratified in 1868, says that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

The primary purpose of this provision was to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, which denied citizenship to U.S.-born people of African descent. Former slaves, in other words. But the amendment also was applied broadly to guarantee citizenship to virtually everyone born in the United States.

That made good sense at the time, a period in our nation’s history when we needed as many new immigrants as possible. The country was re-building after the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution was beginning and hands were short.

Things are different today.

Left unaddressed, the problem of non-resident mothers giving birth to their children on our shores has, as might be expected, worsened, rising 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

A visit to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, underscores the point.

Seventy percent all of the births at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were to illegal immigrants.

Mothers interviewed by the Dallas Morning News said they came to the U.S. to deliver their babies because the care was better at U.S. hospitals.

Well, yeah, and not surprisingly, they also spoke of how much better life was in these United States.

Of course, the care they received didn’t come free.

Parkland spent about $68 million delivering nearly 16,000 babies in 2004. Private insurance covered some of that amount but the bulk came from Medicaid, which paid about $45 million, while Dallas County taxpayers chipped in $31 million.

Meanwhile, there is a smaller yet still significant number of foreign women who come to the U.S. to give birth at their own expense.

They’re known as “birth tourists,” women who travel here with the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their child. Thousands of South Korean women, for example, have done this over the years.

Travel agencies and hotel chains cater to these women, marketing packages that include a baby cradle and a gift set for the mother.

These packages can cost $35,000 to $50,000, but that’s a pittance given the ability of that child to travel freely to and from the U.S., easy access to our education system and a chance to start a life here.

Best of all, a child who’s a citizen can, at 21, sponsor the legal immigration of his or her entire family permanently to this country.

But there are some facts about this “right” that are often overlooked.

Temporary or illegal immigrants who have babies in the U.S. have no means of remaining legally in the U.S. Unless they decide to live in the shadows — and, of course, millions do — they must return home and wait until the child reaches age 21. And once that child reaches 21, it must also be earning at least 125 percent of the U.S. poverty threshold to be able to apply.

After that point, application for a green card for a citizen’s parents is considered immediately, but siblings and other relatives have to wait years before their immigration petitions are heard. With the quotas in place on immigration, we’re talking nearly 30 years or more.

Non-citizen parents of minor U.S. citizens get deported all the time. To avoid being deported on these grounds requires a showing of extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen — and that’s difficult to establish.

So, what’s to be done?

Amending the 14th isn’t necessary, nor would it be easy, requiring two-thirds support in Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. Sen. Graham knows that and so, it seems to me, was engaging in nothing more than political theater.

There’s a better way: Graham and his colleagues in the Senate and House need to drop their political posturing and get serious about fixing our broken immigration system. We don’t need a patchwork of state laws like Arizona’s. This is a federal problem that requires a federal solution, and rounding up mothers and their infants doesn’t cut it.
Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.