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Expert: Eliminating Birthright Citizenship Would Be a Bureacratic and Costly Change of Law

August 24, 2015 (1 min read)

"Changing the constitutional rule of birthright citizenship — a principle of equality that millions of Americans fought and died for in the Civil War — would not only cost billions, but would create more problems than it could solve. 

Birthright citizenship is not the only way that people obtain U.S. citizenship: Persons born overseas become citizens through their parents, or by naturalizing, which can be quite complex and involves filing fees, long waits and often, expensive litigation.

Until now, most Americans have not had to bear that burden. But if we rid ourselves of our simple and fair birthright citizenship rule, what new rule will replace it? Donald Trump and other American politicians who seek to eliminate the simple rule of equality and citizenship for all at birth haven’t said what new rule would replace the current one.

And, how would we enforce a new, more complex rule? 

America has no national birth registry, no squads of skilled government lawyers who can determine whether a person’s parents hold a particular immigration status at the moment of a baby’s birth. We’d need a whole new government bureaucracy to make birth adjudications. Americans would have to pay for this new bureaucracy, which would be tasked to decide the citizenship of some 4 million babies born in America each year.

Wealthy people would likely have little difficulty getting legal guidance for the process, but most Americans can’t afford such expert help. The current government fee for making such an adjudication when a child derives citizenship through parents is $600 per person; are Americans willing to pay a $600 tax on every baby born in the U.S. each year? 

What's more, eliminating this longstanding constitutional provision would not solve our nation’s immigration problems. Changing the rule would increase the number of undocumented immigrants with each child born here, cost the U.S. taxpayers billions, and reduce our tax base. Politicians regularly promise quick solutions to complex problems, only to disappoint the public when they get elected. The promise that immigration problems will be solved if only we change the Constitution is yet another false promise." - Margaret D. Stock, Aug. 24, 2015.

[Margaret D. Stock, a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, is an attorney with the Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group in Anchorage.]