Anchor Babies and the Fourteenth Amendment

Of all the injustices to Americans brought on by illegal immigration one of the worst is the granting of “automatic” citizenship to babies of illegal aliens who are born in the United States. One or more of the parents are here illegally, they have a child on American soil, and then our country in its wisdom grants citizenship to the child. My hair is standing on end as I type. This has become so bad that there are now travel agencies that offer expensive tour packages for pregnant women from China and other countries who are about to give birth. The expectant mother (or both parents-to-be) come to the United States on “vacation,” give birth to a brand new baby American citizen, and well, you know the rest. There’s even a name for this new cottage industry; it’s called Immigration Birth Tourism.

The following two paragraphs are from the book, Liberty and Tyranny, by Mark Levin

“The Statist tolerates the illegal alien’s violations of working, wage, and environmental standards, because the alien’s babies born in America are, under the current interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, treated as United States citizens. And under the Hart-Cellar Act, upon turning twenty-one years of age, the child can sponsor additional family members for citizenship. From the Statist’s perspective, the pool of future administrative state constituents and sympathetic voters is potentially endless.

But does the Fourteenth Amendment grant automatic citizenship to the children of illegal aliens? The relevant part of the amendment reads that “all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. This language requires more than birth within the United States. The amendment’s purpose was to grant citizenship to the emancipated slaves, who were born in the United States and owed sole allegiance to it. Native Americans who were also subject to tribal jurisdiction were excluded from citizenship. There is no legislative history supporting the absurd proposition that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to empower illegal alien parents to confer American citizenship upon their own babies merely as a result as their birth in the United States. Foreign visitors and diplomats are not subject to American Jurisdiction. Illegal aliens are subject to the jurisdiction of their home country, as are their children, whether they are born in their home country or the United States.” [Emphasis added]

I’m sure the current interpretation wouldn’t sit very well with Thomas Jefferson who said that:

“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

So let’s carry ourselves back to the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written:

The principal architect of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment was Michigan Senator Jacob Merritt Howard, a Republican representing Detroit.

Senator Howard crafted much of the language that was eventually ratified as part of the 14th Amendment. During the debates that embroiled the Senate in the years following the Civil War, Senator Howard insisted that the qualifying phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” be inserted into Section 1 of the 14th Amendment being considered by his colleagues. In the speech with which he proposed the alteration, Howard declared:

This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

How could a person “born in the United States” be simultaneously a citizen and a “foreigner” or “alien” if the mere fact of nativity settled the question of citizenship?

Another legislator commenting at the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, Representative John Bingham, provided the following clarification of the meaning behind the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” clause:

Every human being born within the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen. [Emphasis added]

I excerpted the text in red above from the following article on for the purpose of discussing the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. If you open the link, you will see that the full article also talks about the term natural born citizen as it applies to the qualifications needed to be a president of the United States. This is an interesting topic, to be sure, but it is not my purpose to delve into it here.  ADB


About Alan Berkelhammer

Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of any organization or group.
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