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Targeting illegal immigrants

A proposed California ballot initiative takes aim at U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

May 09, 2009

What is it about illegal immigration that unhinges otherwise reasonable people, leading them to propose inhumane and unworkable remedies to the problem? Yes, it is frustrating to have 11 million or 12 million people living in the shadows of our society. We get it: They shouldn't have come here illegally. They should have worked through proper channels and not jumped ahead of other immigrants seeking a life in the United States. Furthermore, this is a moment of profound economic tension and competition for resources. Driven by necessity, American citizens are haunting day-labor sites and taking jobs in orchards and fields alongside the illegal immigrants who once did most of such work.

But that's no excuse for legalizing discrimination, which is precisely what would happen under a state ballot initiative now in the signature-gathering stage and targeted for next year's June election. If passed, it would require all parents of newborns in California to prove U.S. citizenship or legal residency in order to receive their baby's birth certificate. Those who could not would have to pay a $75 fee for a certificate noting the child's "Birth to a Foreign Parent." The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be alerted to the discrepancy. And finally, in willful ignorance of previous California Supreme Court rulings, the measure would attempt to deny health benefits to illegal immigrants. Those are federally mandated benefits, beyond the reach of state law.

Of course, the real goal of Taxpayer Revolution, the anti-tax group that's sponsoring the initiative, isn't just to slap a scarlet letter on these children, or even merely to intimidate pregnant women to the extent that they forgo medical help when in the throes of labor. Capitalizing on the heightened anti-immigrant sentiment that always accompanies hard economic times, the group's ultimate aim is to undo generations of constitutional law and deny the children of illegal immigrants citizenship.

Although neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor Congress has ever explicitly ruled on whether the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are entitled to citizenship under the 14th Amendment, the assumption has long been that they are. If there are genuine doubts about whether that assumption is wrong, then let's have that debate. But don't sneak it into an initiative promoted as a tool to "reduce crime" and keep deported criminal "aliens" from returning to the U.S. because their citizen children are here.

This measure doesn't consider the weight of law, custom and the complex social ramifications involved in bestowing and withdrawing citizenship. It's just simplistic and mean.

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