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Published:June 3rd, 2006 09:02 EST
Punishing the Kids of Illegal Immigrants

Punishing the Kids of Illegal Immigrants

By George Curry (Former Featured Editor)

If you’re not a Native American, you’re an immigrant. We’re a country of immigrants. Yet, the nation is embarking on a nasty and divisive debate over how to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, and what to do about the undocumented workers already living here.

Suggestions have ranged from President Bush’s guest worker proposal to erecting a wall along the 2,000- mile Mexican-U.S. border.

Until now, nothing has worked. That – and raw politics – has prompted a group of federal and state elected officials to seek alternatives that would curb the flow of illegal immigrants. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), which has already been reported out of the Judiciary Committee.

One of the most controversial plans is to circumvent the birthright citizenship provision of the constitution. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of newly- emancipated slaves, declares: ''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.''

To get around the difficult task of amending the constitution, anti-immigration advocates are arguing that inasmuch as illegal immigrants are not in the U.S. lawfully, the parents are technically not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. and therefore their children are not covered by the birthright citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment. This is a matter that is likely to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Supporters of curbing illegal immigration note that the United States is one of the few major industrialized nations that grant broad birthright citizenship with no additional requirements.

Even some backers of the change acknowledge that ending birthright citizenship will not solve the problem of illegal immigration.

“Illegal immigrants are coming for many different reasons,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) told the Los Angeles Times. “Some are coming for jobs. Some are coming to give birth. Some are coming to commit crimes. Addressing this problem is needed if we’re going to combat illegal immigration on all fronts.”

The challenge for Republicans is that some want to enact get-tough immigration polices while simultaneously courting the burgeoning Latino vote. California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson backed an anti- immigrant Proposition 187 in the mid-1990s, only to face a Latino backlash.

Clearly, Americans of all political stripes have strong feelings about the need to curb illegal immigration. A 2004 Gallup Poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe that “large numbers of immigrants entering the U.S.” poses a vital threat to the U.S. over the next decade. A September Zogby poll found that by a 3-to1 margin, Americans believe border control is more important to national security than gun control. And a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll two years ago found that 76 percent of Democrats and Independents agreed with the statement: “We should restrict and control people coming into the country to live more than we do now.”

In August, the Pew Hispanic announced the findings of polling it did in Mexico.

“...About four of every ten adults in the Mexican population say they would migrate to the United States if they had the means and opportunity and that two of every ten are inclined to live and work here without legal authorization,” the report found. While it is clear that Americans want tougher immigration laws, many hold stereotypical views of migrants coming across the border. A popular perception is that most of them were unemployed. In fact, most worked before entering the U.S. to take menial jobs for wages higher than what they were earning back home.

However, a recent Pew study found that of the estimated 6.3 million to 11 million Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally, most arrived to find better jobs and because of family connections, not because they were unemployed in Mexico. Of those polled after applying for identity cards at seven Mexican consulates in the U.S., most are believed to have moved here illegally, more than 80 percent had a relative other than a spouse or child living in the U.S.

As everyone knows, there are no easy solutions. Even if the U.S. were to miraculously build a steel and wire fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, illegal workers would still find a way to enter the U.S.

No one knows how many children are born each year to illegal immigrants. Estimates generally range from 100,000 to 350,000. Whatever solutions lawmakers come up with should not be predicated on punishing babies that had no say in their parents’ decision to cross the border for a better life.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. He appears on National Public Radio (NPR) three times a week as part of “News and Notes with Ed Gordon.” To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.