Focus on Birthright Citizenship (and its Cousin) Long Overdue

Amidst Washington, D.C.’s impeachment hysteria, the Trump administration has taken aim at the lowest hanging fruit among immigration abuses – birth tourism. It’s an underground cottage industry, often criminal, where unscrupulous hotel owners that cater to specific ethnicities advertise abroad to entice women (at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars) to travel to the U.S. to give birth to an American citizen baby.

In a long overdue action, federal authorities recently charged 20 Chinese operators of “You Win USA” that brought hundreds of women to Irvine, Calif., at costs that ranged from $40,000 to $80,000 to deliver a U.S. citizen. Indictments filed in U.S. District Court charged the perpetrators with immigration fraud, money laundering and identity theft. Lying on a visa application, which the hotel proprietors encouraged, is a crime that makes the petitioner inadmissible. Predictably, many of the indicted fled back to China.

During the last 15 months, President Trump announced he’s considering issuing an executive order that would ban awarding citizenship to children whose mothers are in the U.S. illegally or are noncitizens. The U.S. and Canada are the only two advanced nations that grant automatic citizenship to children born on their soil regardless of the parents’ immigration status. To discourage birth tourism, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom have modified guidelines by mandating that at least one parent be a citizen of the country or a legal permanent resident who has resided locally for several years. Various bills which Congress introduced in past years with similar requirements went nowhere.

The lax policy in the U.S. is easily abused. Thousands of women, late in their pregnancies, come to the U.S. each year from countries as distant as South Korea or as close as Mexico to give birth. Some arrive legally as temporary visitors, but with the intent of giving birth to an American baby. Others enter illegally. Once the child is born, he or she receives a U.S. birth certificate and qualifies for a passport. The parent and child’s futures are linked irreversibly to the U.S.

From this process sprang the term “anchor baby,” meaning that the child’s citizenship status anchors his parents to the U.S.

For decades, controversy has swirled around birthright citizenship. At the ongoing debate’s core is the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Section 1 provision: “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.” Illinois Sen. Lyman Trumbull, one of the 14th Amendment’s principle authors, said that “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” meant subject to its “complete” jurisdiction, and therefore “not owing allegiance to anybody else.”

Whether a foreign national either illegally present or present on a temporary, nonimmigrant visa is subject to U.S. jurisdiction is a point worth debating, and one that the Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide. In the meantime, birth tourism is thriving.

No one knows exactly how many American citizen births to tourists or illegally present migrants occur annually. One study found that about 35,000 birth tourism babies are delivered on U.S. soil each year. Additional research showed that each year about 40,000 annual births come from legally present guest workers, students and exchange visitors.

Birthright citizenship serves no legitimate purpose, endangers national security and hurts Americans. The children get Social Security numbers, access to 13 years of free public education, low in-state university tuition and employment privileges. Eventually, they can petition their extended families to enter legally which would significantly accelerate population growth and job competition.

Immigration advocate and former U.S. Immigration and Nationalization Service director Doris Meissner acknowledged birthright citizenship’s pitfalls. Meissner told The Wall Street Journal, “As long as you have birthright citizenship, it’s true this is something that can be exploited.”

President Trump is right to push to end birthright citizenship, and equally correct to criticize birth tourism. U.S. citizenship should be treasured, not handed out like a door prize to disingenuous individuals who’ve figured out how to exploit the U.S., and its generosity.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]