Ending birthright citizenship, politically speaking, would be nearly impossible. But if such a change was achieved, implementation wouldn’t be much easier. And in an ironic twist for big-government-hating conservatives, ending birthright citizenship would be an ideological nightmare.
Eliminating the longstanding and constitutionally enshrined practice of granting every child born on U.S. soil citizenship would create its own set of complicated and costly bureaucratic obstacles, immigration lawyers say. More than just remove an alleged “magnet” for people to immigrate here illegally, ending birthright citizenship would deeply impact the lives of all Americans.
“Everyone benefits from the fact that they just have to show their birth certificate to show that they’re an American citizen and have all the rights of an American citizen,” Bill Stock, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told TPM.
Abandoning the simplicity of birthright citizenship would mean establishing a new system that would complicate the lives of all Americans, from birth to when the time comes to apply for Social Security benefits, experts tell TPM.
“It becomes this sort of paper chase, and who is going to police this? How do you know if a child born in a U.S. hospital is a citizen or not? Are we going to have ICE agents in a maternity ward?” said David Leopold, an immigration lawyer in Cleveland and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“It’s all lovely to say that we are only targeting people who are born to illegal parents, but what that means is that everyone has to show that their parents were not illegally present,” Stock said. “If we want to administer this fairly, there are white people who have undocumented parents. So we can’t just say that we are not going to check for people who are white, or African American or have American accents. You have to check for everybody.”
Immigration lawyers ask: If a birth certificate no longer guarantees citizenship, then what?
“In order to prove that I am an American citizen, I don’t have to just prove that I was born in Rhode Island," Stock said. "I have to prove that when I was born in Rhode Island, both my parents were legal citizens, and to prove that they’re legal citizens, I have to prove that their parents were legal citizens. How far back are we going to make people prove?”
For the rest of their lives, U.S.-born children's ability to participate in everything from the military to entitlement programs would depend on whether their parents could prove that they at their births were eligible to become citizens.
“This is something that would impact all American parents. It would be expensive to come up with ways for all American parents to prove that they are citizens or they are eligible for their children to become U.S. citizens,” said Laura Vazquez, an immigration legislative analyst at National Council of La Raza. “It would just ask people, in the process of delivering a baby and making sure their babies are healthy, to also have all of their proofs of citizenship to then get a birth certificate for their child.”
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