Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) kicked off the new session of Congress by introducing a bill that takes aim at the 14th Amendment. King is against birthright citizenship – the automatic granting of citizenship to all persons born in the U.S. – for the children of undocumented immigrants. He wants to change a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to limit the classes of people defined as citizens.
King’s bill is nothing more than divisive, ignorant pandering. It defies legal precedent, and would do nothing to solve our illegal immigration problem. Instead it scapegoats kids, tramples on American values, and reinforces the image of the GOP as hostile to immigrants and Hispanics.
The language of the 14th Amendment is clear: “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.” For over a century, the Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that anyone born here is a citizen; in Kim Wong Ark v. U.S. (1898), the court found that the U.S.-born son of Chinese immigrants was indeed an American. So although King may not like the 14th Amendment, he cannot legislate around it. The Constitution is the law of the land.
“The current practice of extending U.S. citizenship to hundreds of thousands of ‘anchor babies’ must end,” King says in a press release, “because it creates a magnet for illegal immigration into our country.” Actually, his reasoning stems from a fallacy. The offensive term “anchor baby” is based on the notion that a U.S.-born child can protect an undocumented family from deportation. In fact, having a citizen child does not protect undocumented parents. In the last two years, over 200,000 undocumented parents with citizen children have been deported. Being a high-profile case is no help, either. Undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano gained national attention when she took sanctuary in a Chicago church. Despite being the mother of an American-born son, she was deported anyway.
While King claims that citizenship is a “magnet” for illegal immigration, he offers no evidence to support this claim. He can’t, because there isn’t any. The “magnet” for undocumented immigrants is jobs, which is why illegal immigration is currently at net zero. What’s more, if birthright citizenship were curtailed, it would increase the size of the undocumented population by creating a new class of people who are “illegal by birth.” Not only is that a less-than-desirable outcome, it goes against the fundamental American principle that all men are created equal.
Then again, King has compared undocumented immigrants to dogs and livestock. He has stated that he can tell who is undocumented by their shoes. During the 2012 election, he opined that the GOP shouldn’t even try for Latino votes, because the Democrats would be giving Hispanics “a great big check.” All this from a congressman who sits on the House Judiciary Committee – and on a subcommittee handling immigration policy and enforcement.
King’s posturing makes it harder for the GOP to connect with Latinos. But there are more moderate, constructive voices in the party. Just last Friday, prominent Republicans met in Miami to strategize on Hispanic outreach. Still, their work will be stymied by outspoken extremists like King. He does not represent the views of mainstream Republicans. He is not presenting a legitimate immigration policy option. He is holding the GOP back at a time when it is trying to figure out how to go forward.
King’s attack on the children of undocumented immigrants is cynical, mean-spirited, and pointless. He offers no solution on immigration, only inaccurate rhetoric. And if Republicans do not rein him in, he may well undo the GOP’s effort to remake their party for the future.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.