Reducing the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has become increasingly popular with many politicians and their constituents, which is reflected by the widespread support and imitation of Arizona’s tough new immigration laws.
These efforts culminated Tuesday, when Republican lawmakers from 15 states proclaimed their intentions to change the 14th Amendment of the Constitution so it no longer grants citizenship to all persons born in the U.S.
These misguided efforts are biased and based on a questionable interpretation of the intentions behind the amendment. They must be defeated.
The 14th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1866, nearly a year after the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, and was created to grant citizenship to all newly freed slaves. The South heavily opposed it.
Proponents of the new efforts argue that the 14th Amendment was not designed to grant citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, and therefore, it should be changed.
However, only 32 years after the amendment was created, in the 1898 case of the U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court ruled that the son of a Chinese immigrant couple should be granted citizenship despite his parents’ ineligibility.
This precedent confirmed citizenship for all individuals born in the U.S., despite their parents’ origins.
In the 112 year since then, waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany and the nations of Eastern Europe and Latin America, among countless others, have given birth to children that would immediately become citizens – perhaps including some ancestors of the same legislators who now want to deny others that right.
Beyond the questionable logic that refuses to place the necessary value on the 1898 decision, it seems only contemporary bias against the newest wave of immigrants and politically motivated exploitations of that bias are the sole reasons for wanting to change such a fundamental staple of the Constitution.
Lawmakers pushing for the change hope that court appeals of any state legislation they produce would eventually bring the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they yearn for a victory in redefining the amendment.
If and when the court hears the case, it must not rule against itself and the earlier court.
Politicians are always seeking to gain the spotlight. As these efforts reveal, they’ll do whatever is popular to obtain and retain political office. That’s why this bold move is no surprise.
Despite this, U.S. courts and the Supreme Court, in particular, have an obligation to act independently of the bias that may color their own time.
The court needs to rule against discrimination by defeating the latest politically self-serving attempt to victimize the Constitution.