The Tea Party love the constitution—except the bit that grants citizenship to all those born in the USby Dahlia Lithwick / January 26, 2011 / Leave a comment
American politicians line up to praise the Constitution, but getting them to agree on its interpretation is a trickier business
On 6th January, the second day that the new, Republican-dominated House of Representatives was open for business, America got treated to a unique spectacle: a Tea Party-led reading of the US Constitution. It was an event designed to demonstrate how the House would henceforth be guided by the document as if it were a set of divinely inspired commandments—though legislators left out those awkward references to slavery and such.
But as this public display of love with the constitution unfolded it quickly became apparent that the old joke about marriage holds true. Gazing deep into the eyes of their founding document, some Republican legislators sighed deeply and then breathed: “I love you. Now change.”
At the same time as the reading was taking place Republican legislators from some five states were unveiling legislation aimed right at the heart of the 14th Amendment. That text, adopted in 1868, was passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott vs Sandford, which denied citizenship to black slaves and free blacks. To remedy that injustice, the 14th Amendment explicitly provides that: “All persons born or naturalised in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
The purpose of this clause was to ensure that all children born in the US are citizens; that there are not two classes of citizenship in America; and that the right to citizenship turns on an objective fact (geography) as opposed to social status (who your grandmother was). The framers of the 14th Amendment were unequivocal on the point that it conferred citizenship on the children of non-citizens. For decades the Supreme Court has affirmed that principle, starting with an 1898 decision which used the 14th Amendment to confer citizenship on the American-born child of non-citizen Chinese immigrants.
Yet some members of Congress and a group of state legislators now want to “revisit” the 14th Amendment. They seek to fix America’s towering immigration problems by honing in on a mythical swarm of “anchor babies,” who reportedly inextricably tie their illegal immigrant parents to the US when their mothers sneak across the border to give birth.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, has charmingly referred to such parents as…