Birthright Citizenship

Birthright Citizenship Denial by Texas Officials Is Unconstitutional

And just plain mean-spiritedly stupid and wrong, too.


Cliff 1066/FLICKR

Today, the Washington Post has a great editorial, "Texas's war on birthright babies," excoriating officials in the Texas vital records office and their political enablers for denying birth certificates to children who are clearly born within the boundaries of the Lone Star State. As the Post's editorial board notes:

In an act of stunning official arrogance, the state has been refusing to issue birth certificates to increasing numbers of Texas-born children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Without birth certificates, the children face barriers to being enrolled in day care and school, receiving Medicaid benefits — even being baptized.

The children, who so far number in the hundreds and possibly the thousands, are U.S. citizens. Yet by refusing to issue them birth certificates, on the pretext that their parents' documents — including passports and photo IDs issued by Mexican consulates — do not meet the state's standards, Texas is in effect making them stateless non-persons, devoid of rights and privileges.

No other state has pursued such a pernicious campaign against the blameless American-born children of immigrants in this country illegally. While half a dozen Republican candidates have said they favor overturning the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship, only Texas has adopted policies whose effect is to overturn it unilaterally.

My colleague Damon Root has brilliantly explained the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment in terms that even dim Texas bureaucrats and politicians can understand:

Let's start with the text. The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment says, "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." The primary author of those words was Republican Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan. "This amendment I have offered," Howard told the Senate on May 30, 1866, "is simply declarative of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States." …

"The Fourteenth Amendment," the [Supreme] Court [in 1898] observed in Wong Kim Ark, "affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes."

Root's whole analysis is well worth your attention.

If it is illegal for a county clerk to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples (and it is), then it is similarly illegal for vital records bureaucrats to deny birth certificates to U.S. citizens. The same penalties should apply.