‘Birth tourism,’ the 14th Amendment, and the left 

E.J. Dionne Jr. asked derisively last week, “Dear Republicans, do you really want to endanger your party's greatest political legacy by turning the 14th Amendment to our Constitution into an excuse for election-year ugliness?”

Election year ugliness?  Since when is asking that the intent of a Constitutional amendment be followed “ugly?”

On the bright side, Dionne does what most on the left never do – acknowledge it was the GOP which penned the amendments outlawing slavery and granting former slaves citizenship and the right to vote.  It certainly wasn’t the Democrats, who instead fought all of that tooth and nail for most of a century.

However, as with much of the left, Dionne has decided that those who come here illegally should have the same benefits and privileges as those who are here legally or are natural citizens. Namely, when they have a child that child should automatically be a citizen of the US. And he attempts to shame Republicans into dropping the matter by acknowledging they were the party of the amendments and then claiming that the “tradition” contained in the citizenship portion of the 14th  amendment - a GOP accomplishment of the past - is what these ugly Republicans of today are trying to change.

He also attempts to overlay that with an emotional argument in the hope of making his historically inaccurate argument seem stronger:

"People come here to have babies," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "They come here to drop a child. It's called, 'drop and leave.' To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child's automatically an American citizen. That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons."

Drop a child? How can a strong believer in the right to life use such a phrase?

I can't do better on this than the Cleveland Plain Dealer's estimable columnist Connie Schultz: "I have lived for more than half a century, and I have yet to meet a mother anywhere in the world who would describe the excruciating miracle of birth as 'dropping' a baby."

Of course the real point Graham is making has absolutely nothing to do with how one describes having a baby. Instead it has to do with the truth of the charge he’s making.  Do people, in fact, come here just to have a baby?  Is there something called “birth tourism”?

The answer to those two questions is “yes.”

For instance:

In a few weeks, Kim Jeong Yeon will put on her baggiest overalls to disguise her bulging belly and board a flight for Los Angeles.

She will spend three months in the United States, staying on a tourist visa, after which she will return to South Korea with a newly minted U.S. citizen in tow.

"It's easy. If you register the birth, it's automatic that your baby can get an American passport," says Kim, a 31-year-old importer of Italian shoes who is pregnant with her first child.

One might say it is the ultimate gift that South Korean parents can give their newborns. Those who can cough up the $20,000 or so it costs are coming to the United States by the thousands to give birth so their newborns can have American citizenship.

Their reasons range from a desire to enroll their offspring in American schools to enabling them to avoid South Korean military service.

According to the LA Times, the practice is also popular with women in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Turkey has firms which offer birth junkets for $25,000 to $40,000 to various US cities which include hotel accommodations and hospital expenses. It is reported that 12,000 Turkish children have been born through birth tourism.

As it stands now, that’s entirely legal, but exploits the 14th amendment in a way never intended. The parents get a visa, come over here to “drop the child” and head home. The child is a US citizen. With that goes all the rights and benefits any US citizen would have.

Dionne completely ignores the question of original intent in favor of a rather mealy mouthed attempt to paint those against such exploitation today as being against a “tradition” started by the Republicans. Dionne chastens them not to “throw away” the good their party once did.

But anchor babies, as they have become to be known, have nothing to do with tradition or the intent of the amendment.  In fact, the man who wrote it at the time made it very clear he wasn’t at all talking about the babies of anyone but those considered natural citizens.  Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan, the citizenship clause author, was very clear about that point:

"This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers."

(Underlined added.) One has to wonder how that could be misinterpreted.

But misinterpreted it was. In 1982, Justice Brennan put a footnote into Plyler v. Doe, in which he asserted that "no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment 'jurisdiction' can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful."

How anyone could make that argument there is no “plausible” difference between an illegal alien, tourist visa, and a legal resident alien with a straight face remains a mystery. But what is obviously clear is that wasn’t what the Senator who authored that clause in the amendment intended (or said), nor the Congress which passed it, at the time or the states who voted to approve it. And it certainly has nothing to do with any “Republican tradition”. In fact, it is diametrically opposed to Sen. Howard’s very words on the subject.

Dionne doesn’t stop with his attempt at shaming. He also implies that the mounting Republican opposition to “anchor babies” is racist. His argument in that regard is about as persuasive – and knowledgeable – as his historical argument.

It is time to stop this travesty of citizenship for all who happen to be passing through the US – especially those here illegally. And while Senator Graham’s description may offend the delicate sensibilities of some on the left, his point is right on the mark. There is nothing in the amendment or its “tradition” that argues that all who “drop a baby” here have a right to see that baby granted citizenship with all the benefits and privileges citizenship entails. It was an fiat act of a Supreme Court Justice a few decades ago, not any Republican “tradition” founded in the 14th amendment, that granted citizenship to babies of tourists and illegal aliens.

And it is time for the Congress of the United States to do its job and correct this judicial interpretation. 

 

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