States challenge birthright citizenship

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Five states are bracing for a constitutional debate as they consider similar legislation that could change the definition of birthright citizenship in their states.

The controversial legislation seemed doomed to failure, said former Texas Solicitor General James Ho at the Civil Rights on the Border Symposium on Tuesday. The Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights — a publication dedicated to providing information and analysis on current civil rights laws — hosted the symposium.

On Jan. 5, state lawmakers from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, proposed legislation that Ho said challenges the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states “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.”

Ho said with the exception of children of foreign diplomats and others who are immune to U.S. law, history shows lawmakers intended the 14th Amendment to cover every child born in the U.S.
Ho said the legislation, if passed, would not confer citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants and would require a constitutional amendment to enact it.

Although Texas is not currently considering a bill that would prevent the children of undocumented immigrants from gaining citizenship, Ho said he believes the current surge of anti-immigration legislation in Texas is a result of the Arizona immigration law, which requires law enforcement officials to verify citizenship of suspicious individuals in the course of a routine arrest.

In a statement, Gov. Rick Perry said while he supports Arizona’s right to enforce laws to keep the public safe, certain components of the bill would not be fit for Texas.

“We cannot have a meaningful conversation about immigration reform without securing the border first,” said spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “And that is where the governor’s focus remains. He will continue to call on the federal government to provide the adequate resources necessary to ensure our southern border is secure.”

UT alumnus Jose Torres-Don said he and fellow undocumented students risked deportation when they lobbied U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on the DREAM Act, a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrant students a legal path to citizenship. The current birthright citizenship proposals would be an attack on children and on the Hispanic community, he said at the event.

“A lot of this affects mixed families who have undocumented family members,” Torres-Don said. “It would further marginalize a community that’s already hurting.”