Automatic Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants’ Children?

In recent months, there has been increasing support for immigration reform for children of undocumented immigrants. Recently, President Obama created a new policy which ensures that qualified young children of undocumented immigrants will be safe from deportation and can even apply for legal work authorization. However, some legislators oppose policies which would offer status for undocumented immigrants and their children. Most recently, Republican Senate Candidate Christopher Shays has stated that he opposes automatic citizenship for children born to undocumented parents in the US. Citizenship by birthright has been protected by the 14th Amendment since 1868, but Shays has supported eight bills which would take away automatic birthright citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants.

In fact, Shays has talked about a so-called “blue card,” or a new immigration status which would give undocumented immigrants the right to work and travel in the US and would obligate them to pay taxes and Social Security but would ensure that they never qualify for naturalization.

Shays has received strong support from groups who have been fighting undocumented immigration. According to Shays, the current automatic US citizenship granted to all persons born in the US creates a problem by giving undocumented immigrants an incentive to have children in the US, since once those children are 18 they can sponsor their parents for citizenship. Other experts, however, point out that children need to be 21 to sponsor their parents for citizenship and if those parents are in the country illegally, they would need to leave the US for at least ten years in order to get legal status and citizenship through their children.

According to immigration advocacy groups, birth tourism involves only a small percentage of people, most of whom enter the US legally in order to give birth to children. Some groups believe that the number of undocumented immigrants would rise substantially if Shays and others succeeded in ensuring that automatic birthright citizenship were repealed. Since all children born to undocumented immigrants would also be undocumented under the new laws, they and their children would continue to have no status, over generations.

Some legislators in some states have proposed two classes of birth certificates – one for legal citizens and residents and one for undocumented parents.  Rep. Steve King in Iowa, for example, has proposed the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011, which would allow only some children born in the US to enjoy instant US citizenship. Children who were not born to US parents or people with legal status in the US would not qualify for citizenship by birthright under the legislation.