Outside editorial: A bogus battle: 'Birthright citizenship'

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

It's tough enough to pick up the newspaper some days. There you are, minding your own business on a sunny Sunday morning when - whack! - right between the eyes: In one year, 60,000 Texas babies born to illegal immigrants, 11,000 at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital.

And every one of them a U.S. citizen!

It's true, Joe Minuteman, but tap the brakes. Yes, it might feel good and righteous to demand that someone change the 14th Amendment to fix this "birthright citizenship" provision. Yes, you know it was a 19th-century amendment meant to override some states' laws that would have denied citizenship to former slaves.

At least part of your argument is that illegal immigrants are taking advantage, slipping across the border just to give birth to U.S. citizens, who then complicate matters for federal officials charged with deporting their parents but reluctant to split up families - or send Americans packing.

"Anchor babies," you call them. And then they grow up and go to public school and some end up in county jails or charity hospitals, living on government assistance, all because of a few lines in our Constitution.

Except that might not be completely accurate. For one thing, no one really knows how many women slip across the border illegally with the sole intent of giving birth to an American. We do know Parkland is far from the closest public hospital to the Rio Grande, and it delivers far more children to illegal immigrant mothers than any other in Texas.

Is it possible that some large percentage of them were already here? Current estimates suggest there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, about 1.5 million in Texas. Compare that last number to 60,000 births in one year. And crossing the border can be a physical challenge for anyone, much less a pregnant woman.

It's also worth considering whether this might - just might - be an election-year issue ginned up by some GOP senators who see political advantage in stoking the base over illegal immigration.

The next time you hear senators calling for a "birthright citizenship" debate, ask them how likely it is that a constitutional amendment will gain approval in their lifetimes. Remember, it needs two-thirds' majorities in both houses and ratification by three-fourths of the states.

Think about it, Joe Minuteman. We agree that the nation's immigration system is badly in need of repair, that the feds have proved to be wholly incapable of enforcing the laws we have now. Our belief is that comprehensive reform - border security, interior enforcement, a realistic guest-worker program and a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants already here - is the only logical way to fix what's broken.

A divisive charge to spend years sewing up a tiny hole in the net makes far less sense.

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