Mitch McConnell has stirred up a hornet’s nest on the left (see, for example, the comments here) by suggesting that we should hold hearings on the question of whether every child born in the US, even if his/her parents have come here illegally, should be entitled to full US citizenship.
The left’s response has been the predictable hue and cry that the racist GOP wants to repeal the 14th Amendment. But the Fourteenth Amendment was not meant to explicitly grant citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants—its purpose was to make sure that former slaves were not blocked from receiving citizenship. The operative words are in the so-called citizenship clause, “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 history of the clause also includes the following:
There are varying interpretations of the original intent of Congress, based on statements made during the congressional debate over the amendment. During the original debate over the amendment Senator Jacob M. Howard of Michigan—the author of the Citizenship Clause—described the clause as excluding Indians, who maintain their tribal ties, and “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” He was supported by other senators, including Edgar Cowan, Reverdy Johnson, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lyman Trumbull…
The provisions in Section 1 have been interpreted to the effect that children born on United States soil, with very few exceptions, are U.S. citizens. This type of guarantee—legally termed jus soli, or “right of the territory”— does not exist in most of Europe, Asia or the Middle East, although it is part of English common law and is common in the Americas. The phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” indicates that there are some exceptions to the universal rule that birth on U.S. soil automatically grants citizenship.
The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868. At the time, it could not have been meant to apply to illegal immigrants, for the simple reason that in 1868 there were few if any restraints on immigration, and therefore virtually all immigration was legal. Back then, the situation re immigration was exceedingly different from today’s. Unlike now, much of the country was still largely unsettled and immigrants were greatly desired to facilitate expansion, especially in the west.
Immigration to this country had not yet reached the enormous levels it achieved later in the 19th century and the early part of the twentieth. Most of the immigrants prior to that came from western Europe, and were considered to be part of the same cultural groups that had founded this country. The very un-PC thought that the US should strive to preserve that cultural mix as much as possible was commonplace then, and was also responsible for some of the laws that were passed later in the 19th century that put brakes and limits on legal immigration.
For example, just to name a few, one of the first was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; then later on a series of quota systems based on national origins were enacted between 1917 and 1924; more quotas were established in 1952. These laws setting limits based on national origins remained firmly in place until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the national quotas and replaced them with a general quota instead.
That’s a very brief overview of a very complex system. The most important points in terms of the issues at hand are that, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, virtually all immigration was legal; and then afterward (and until quite recently) the bulk of immigration could be controlled and monitored much more easily than now because it occurred by ocean vessel, either from Europe or Asia. The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment clearly never envisioned the situation we are facing today, when the country reaches from sea to sea, the vast influx of immigrants are illegal and come across the Mexican border clandestinely, some are dealing in drugs and violence, the federal government has no interest in policing the situation, the citizens already here are outraged about it, and an unknown number of these illegal Mexican immigrants are alleged to be coming here while pregnant for the express purpose of taking advantage of the Citizenship Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment and having so-called “anchor babies.”
[NOTE: The history of immigration from Mexico to this country is a long and fascinating one, with a push-pull between the perceived need for laborers (mainly agricultural ones) and the need to control the influx of them---how many to allow in legally, how long they should be allowed to stay, and what to do with illegals. For example, many Mexican workers whose illegal presence here had been previously tolerated in times of plenty were deported during the Great Depression. The Bracero program, which later established rules for Mexican workers to come here temporarily and legally during WWII and a time of labor shortages in this country, was eliminated in the 60s. Then the influx of illegals began to accelerate (with a few reversals such as 1954's Operation Wetback), ultimately reaching the huge numbers we have today.]