Babies of illegals would not receive citizenship

Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/14/2010 09:11:01 AM PST

Republican lawmakers in Congress are sponsoring a bill that seeks to abolish birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents.

Federal law automatically grants citizenship to any person born on American soil, regardless of the immigration status of the child’s parents.

Supporters of the bill say that many people come to this country for the express purpose of having children who are American citizens, making the family eligible for welfare and other government benefits.

“You have many people coming to this country illegally,” said Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “They come to this country and have babies. The children are citizens. The children are eligible to go to school. They receive food stamps and social programs. The American taxpayers are paying for it.”

The bill does not seek to change the Constitution, which grants birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868.

Instead, it would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to clarify the interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

The measure would limit birthright citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is either a citizen, lawful permanent resident or actively serving in the U.S. military. The legislation would only apply prospectively and would not affect the citizenship status of people born before the bill’s enactment.

If the bill passes, people on both sides of the issue say it is likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds.

“This bill is unconstitutional,” said Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino. “It would change one of the most basic principles that our nation was founded on: If you were born in the United States, you’re an American.”

Baca accused the bill’s sponsors of playing election-year politics.

“We should ban these types of divisive proposals,” Baca said. “All this bill is meant to do is play on people’s fears, incite anger and hate surrounding anti-immigration policies. This bill doesn’t do anything to fix our broken immigration system.”

Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, declined to comment because she wasn’t “fully informed” on the issue, spokesman Nathan Landers said in an e-mail. Napolitano’s district includes Pomona.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said that granting birthright citizenship worsens the illegal immigration problem.

“There’s an incentive for people to come here and quickly have a baby,” said McKeon, a co-sponsor of the bill whose district includes Victorville and Barstow. “Since the baby is a citizen, it’s harder to send the family back to where they came from if they came illegally. Now you have a citizen and it would split up the family.”

Miller said he welcomes the U.S. Supreme Court intervening to settle the debate.

The bill’s proponents say the intent of the 14th Amendment was to grant citizenship to emancipated slaves after the Civil War.

The amendment states, “All 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.”

Miller said the words, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” should not apply to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents.

“You can’t tell me a person who is a citizen of any other country is subject to our jurisdiction. They’re not,” said Miller, whose district includes Chino and Chino Hills. “If their parents are from another country, they are a citizen of that country. They are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, has not taken a position on the bill. Jim Specht, his spokesman, said in an e-mail that Lewis believes it is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution.

Lewis “understands the problems created by children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants,” Specht said, “but hearings in previous Congresses have shown that bills like the `birthright’ bill would have a difficult time passing a constitutional challenge.”

Kathleen Lane Schneider, a Redlands Tea Party organizer who plans to run for Lewis’ congressional seat in the June Republican primary, criticized Lewis for not taking a stand.

“I think this is a typical thing that Congressman Lewis has done over the years,” Schneider said. “He’s a follower and not a leader. He will not take a position until he finds out what everybody else thinks.”

Schneider said she is in the early stages of her campaign and wasn’t prepared to state an opinion on the issue.

Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, supports the Judiciary Committee deciding whether a simple bill or constitutional amendment is needed to change the law, said Jo Maney, his spokeswoman.

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