Make birthright law fix part of U.S. immigration reforms

Filed under: Opinion |

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that an infant born to a foreign mother in the United States should be entitled to instantaneous U.S. citizenship is outdated, unworkable and costing American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.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. He can be reached at or 719-329-5206.

2 Responses to Make birthright law fix part of U.S. immigration reforms

  1. Allen,

    Thanks for bringing attention to this critical issue.

    You say it’s time we make a change, but that we shouldn’t fiddle with the 14th. I agree that changed the constitution on an issue as politically sensitive as this would be beyond difficult, but HOW do you propose we address it.

    You say there’s a better way by fixing our broken immigration system, but you don’t give a clue as to what fixing it entails. The birthright issue is a HUGE part of our immigration problem, and by fixing it without addressing the 14th would result in a law that would most likely be struck down on the basis of the 14th.

    Thank you again for the article; I’m just confused by your logic.

    – jeremy

    Jeremy Isaac
    August 13, 2010 at 8:14 am

  2. Alan you are right on many levels here.

    It is time for the Fed’s to take this issue seriously, and for the administration to stop trying to make Arizona and the majority of citizens across the country out to be the bad guys for suggesting they are not doing their job. The administration needs to stop insinuating that anyone who wants our borders secure and immigration issues fixed (and I do not mean amnesty) is a bigoted racist. They do this intentionally in an effort to shut up conservatives so they can back door their policies because after all “they know what is best for us” and we are “just too stupid to understand.” I think it is time for the largely silent majority to come forward and make our politicians do the jobs for which they have been elected, and if they are not willing to do the job we need to force them into retirement, or another career.

    On another note, I also think it is time to rethink their benefit packages. It irks me to no end that they would not vote to stop the last automatic salary increase when the rest of the country was busy tightening their belts and taking pay cuts.

    August 13, 2010 at 8:57 am