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No asterisk to the 14th Amendment

Editorial

State rules, including those involving college aid, that punish citizens because their parents are undocumented are unconstitutional and misguided.

August 17, 2012
  • Last week, a state court of appeals found that education officials had wrongly denied aid to an 18-year-old student born and raised in the United States because her Guatemalan mother is an undocumented immigrant. Above: The National Immigration Forum in Washington D.C. on August 15.
Last week, a state court of appeals found that education officials had wrongly… (Michael Reynolds / EPA )

For years, New Jersey barred U.S.-born college students from receiving state financial aid if their parents were in this country illegally. Last week, a state court of appeals put an end to that misguided policy, finding that education officials had wrongly denied aid to an 18-year-old student born and raised in the United States because her Guatemalan mother is an undocumented immigrant. Though it is binding only in New Jersey, the ruling should serve as a warning to other states — such as Florida, where U.S.-born residents are required to pay out-of-state college tuition simply because their parents are undocumented.

The 14th Amendment states: "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." Moreover, the Supreme Court in 1898 specifically elucidated the significance of that language when it held that a Chinese man born in San Francisco to Chinese parents nonetheless was an American citizen by virtue of his birthplace. There is no asterisk in the 14th Amendment or the high court's jurisprudence that grants states the authority to create a two-tier system of citizenship.

Beyond flouting well-established law, the only thing such discriminatory policies achieve is to discourage many young people from attending college. That's not good for anyone. This country needs more doctors, scientists and high-tech workers, not a less-educated workforce that struggles to compete globally.

Americans are divided over how to address the issue of illegal immigration. Some take a particularly hard line and have tried to change the definition of who is and isn't a citizen. That has led to some egregious falsehoods — notably that undocumented immigrants are coming across the border to have "anchor babies" who will secure citizenship for their parents. Here is a fact: A child born in this country can't request any immigration benefit for a parent, such as a green card, until he or she turns 21, and even then many face long delays.

Trying to control immigration by punishing children born in this country is unconstitutional and dumb. States should drop those efforts before the courts force them to.

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