Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The Immigration Policy Center released Constitutional Citizenship: A Legislative History, by 14th Amendment scholar Garrett Epps. One of the most insidious attacks on immigrants at both the federal and state level is the suggestion that the U.S. should repeal the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment and deny birthright citizenship to the children of certain immigrants. Some proponents of this position argue that the Framers of the 14th Amendment never intended that birthright citizenship extend to the children of temporary immigrants and unauthorized immigrants. Epps argues that the Framers of the 14th Amendment lived during a period of increasing immigration, in which Chinese laborers were the temporary immigrants of the day and "gypsies" were the unauthorized immigrants of the 19th century. The 14th Amendment provided for birthright citizenship for both of these populations, and most certainly provides for birthright citizenship for the children of temporary and unauthorized immigrants today. Perhaps most fundamentally, Epps explains that the Framers of the 14th Amendment were intent on changing the status quo and undoing the impact of years of slavery. They sought to amend the Constitution and not replicate the discriminatory policies of the antebellum period. A true analysis of the original intent of the Framers finds that they could not have intended to create a new population of vulnerable persons who, because of the national origins or actions of their parents, are denied U.S. citizenship. Epps writes:
If the children of "illegal aliens" are "illegal" themselves, then we have taken a giant step toward recreating slavery in all but name. If citizenship is the hereditary gift of the nation rather than the inheritance of its people, we are drifting back toward the discredited doctrine of Dred Scott...The clamor for hereditary inequality comes from people eager to repeat the mistakes of the American past, and by doing so, to betray the American future.
Professor Epps is author of Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America (2006). He visited UC Davis yesterday and presented his research on birthright citizenship and the Fourteenth Amendment to the UC Davis law faculty.