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8 reasons to leave 14th Amendment alone

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr.: GOP state lawmakers want to change 14th Amendment's citizenship clause
  • Their attempt to block citizenship to immigrants' kids shows poor grasp of U.S. law, he says
  • Navarrette: It's "anchor jobs" that draw immigrants, not having so-called "anchor babies"
  • He suspects it's a cynical bid to prevent new Latino voters in future unlikely to vote for GOP

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to

San Diego (CNN) -- There is nothing sadder than watching a political party turn itself inside out and violate its principles.

A coalition of Republican state legislators are doing just that by attempting to change the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment -- or at least how it is interpreted -- to deny citizenship to the U.S. children of illegal immigrants.

At issue, this smidgen of "subversive" language:

"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."

-- 14th Amendment, Section 1

That is pretty cut and dried, unless you have an interest in clouding the issue for the sake of politics.

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Which brings us to State Legislators for Legal Immigration. Representing members from 40 states, this outfit is taking aim at what it calls "anchor babies." This week, some of the leaders revealed their strategy at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

They propose two things: legislation to create a new definition of state citizenship, apart from U.S. citizenship, that excludes the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, and an agreement between the states to issue different birth certificates to babies whose parents cannot prove legal status.

This entire crusade is an immoral, illogical and ill-conceived maneuver that will further divide the American people and ultimately destroy the Republican Party.

And here are eight reasons why:

1. There's a reason why the majority of Republicans in Congress wisely steered clear of this issue in 1999 and again in 2005 when it was proposed by Reps. Brian Bilbray, R-California, and Nathan Deal, R-Georgia, respectively. (Deal will soon become Georgia's governor.) In this country, we don't visit the sins of the parent onto the child. And it's unseemly for the GOP to be seen as attacking children whose only "sin" is having the temerity to be born on U.S. soil.

• 2. What part of "legal" and "U.S. citizen" don't these activists understand? Some restrictionists and racists like to claim that they have no problem with legal immigrants, that their beef is solely with those who enter the country illegally or overstay a visa unlawfully. Is that so? This movement puts the lie to that claim by targeting a group of people who have every "legal" right to be here.

And normally, people like this oppose comprehensive reform because it would offer an earned pathway to citizenship. They say that this commodity is much too valuable to be bartered with. If they really believe that, then they should keep their mitts off it and show this group of U.S. citizens the proper respect.

• 3. What happened to those who usually preach the virtues of adhering to a strict interpretation of the Constitution? Apparently, that kind of "strictness" doesn't apply in this case. Ironically, many of these same people want to make English the country's official language. But shouldn't they first acquaint themselves with the English language?

4. One argument for this kind of legislative mischief is that it is completely permissible under "states' rights." Seriously? These folks not only skipped high school civics. They also slept though U.S. history. A state doesn't have the right to pass a law that denies residents a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. See Mississippi, circa 1960s.

5. There is no such thing as anchor babies. Just ask Elvira Arellano, who now resides in Mexico because she was deported in August 2007 despite having an 8-year-old son who was born in the United States. There are, however, anchor jobs gladly provided by U.S. employers, including homeowners eager to get others to do their chores. It's jobs that keep illegal immigrants "anchored" here. Stop hiring, and you'll send them on their way.

• 6. The Republican Party is planting the seeds of its own demise with this stunt. Polls show that the majority of Latinos are not in support of an open border, and they'll go along with border enforcement. But they are opposed to what they consider the radical and mean-spirited idea of stripping citizenship away from children. With an estimated 60 million Latinos in the country, the GOP should pick a different fight.

• 7. I have long suspected that the secret agenda is to spare Republicans the electoral spanking they richly deserve. It may be that the concern here isn't U.S. citizenship per se, but something that comes with it: the right to vote. Republicans know that once these U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants come of age, they're likely to remember how Mommy and Daddy were treated and pay it back, voting against every Republican on the ballot -- unless they don't have the right to vote. And if this is true, what happened to that time-honored GOP rhetoric about people taking responsibility for their actions? There isn't much of that here if Republicans are indeed scheming to dodge accountability and avoid paying a political price for bashing immigrants.

• 8. It is often said that the United States is one of the few developed nations in the world that affords citizenship rights to anyone born on its soil. That is something we should feel proud of. It's one of the reasons the United States remains an exceptional nation, one of the most productive countries, the one remaining superpower, and an inspiration around the globe.

The U.S. immigration system isn't perfect, but this country handles immigration better than any other on Earth.

Let's keep it that way. Let's keep ignorance and prejudice at bay. And keep the 14th Amendment just the way it is.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.