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Birthright Citizenship Under Attack From Rep. Steve King - Again. By Roger Algase

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In my November 28, 2014 post: "An American Hero Who Fought For Birthright Citizenship" I wrote about the story of Wong Kim Ark, a US born American whose successful battle to avoid having his citizenship denied by immigration officials because of his ancestry went all the way up to the US Supreme Court.

That decision, US v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) is the foundation of birthright citizenship in America as we know it today. Yet in times of high anti-immigrant feeling, as is the case among at least some vocal and determined sectors of the US population today and their elected representatives, the specter of taking away citizenship by birth and replacing it with citizenship by ethnicity or some other factor always arises.

The latest effort in this direction comes, not surprisingly, from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has never claimed to be a friend of minority immigrants in America, and whose actions have always matched his words in this regard. The Hill reports on January 16 that King has, not for the first time, introduced a bill that would end the current policy of granting birthright citizenship for virtually everyone born in the US. Instead the bill would limit citizenship through birth in the US to children who have at least one parent who is a US citizen, an LPR, or an immigrant serving in the armed forces.

The following is King's "legal reasoning" in support of his bill, according to his following statement quoted in The Hill.

"A century ago it didn't matter very much that a practice began that has now grown into a birthright citizenship, an anchor baby agenda...

When they started granting automatic citizenship to all babies born in the United States they missed the clause in the 14th Amendment that says 'And subject to the jurisdiction thereof'. So once the practice began, it grew out of proportion and today between 340,000 and 750,000 babies are born in America that get automatic citizenship even though both parents are illegal. This has got to stop."

See, The Hill: Bill would end birthright citizenship, January 16.

No, Representative King, they didn't overlook the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause of the 14th amendment, and it actually mattered a great deal over a century ago whether a child born in the US could be deprived of citizenship because of his or her race or parents' status. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that an entire Civil War was fought over this point, based on the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scot v. Sandford (1857). One of the main purposes, if not the only purpose, of the 14th Amendment was to overturn this decision, which had held that African-Americans could not become US citizens by birth in the US.

While everyone agreed that the purpose of the 14th Amendment was to eliminate discrimination against African-Americans, there was ample disagreement in the 19th century about whether the 14th Amendment was also meant to protect Native Americans, Asians and other victims of prejudice as well. This was not resolved until the Wong decision.

The Wong decision held, after a lengthy and detailed discussion of the same "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause which Rep. King claims has been overlooked, that the 14th Amendment was meant to protect everyone, not only African-Americans. That decision has been the law for almost 117 years, and no amount of inflammatory rhetoric and anti-immigrant legislation introduced by Steve King and his far right wing supporters has any likelihood of changing it.

It may be significant that when King introduced the same bill in the last Congress, it had 39 co-sponsors, all Republicans, according to The Hill. This publication reports that the latest version has seven sponsors. After the 2016 election, in which millions of Latino and other minority US born Americans whose parents were not able to obtain legal status at the time their children were born are expected be out voting in full force, the number of co-sponsors of Steve King's attempt to bring back 19th century-style discrimination in the 21st century may well drop to zero.

If there is any one single feature that makes America the land of freedom and opportunity for all as we think of it today, it is birthright citizenship for virtually every child born in this country (excepting only the children of foreign diplomats, who are exempt from US law and therefore not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States).

Steve King and his evidently dwindling number of Congressional supporters would like to set up a two tier system in this country - citizenship rights from birth for children of the favored group or class, and illegal status subject to expulsion from the moment of birth in this country for the children of parents belonging to groups which he regards as inferior.

Nothing could be more contrary to America's values and ideals.

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Updated 01-17-2015 at 02:41 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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