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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Born in the USA? CAP Panel Reveals Support for Constitutional Citizenship

April 4, 2011 - Posted by Avril Lighty

Recent attacks on constitutional citizenship are unfounded and distract from the vital task of building support for comprehensive immigration reform, according to conservative and progressive legal experts.

“I don’t regard this as a left versus right issue,” said James Ho, former solicitor general of Texas, during a panel discussion organized by the Center for American Progress. “The issue of birthright citizenship and the meaning of the Citizenship Clause in the 14th Amendment is a profoundly universal American concept.”

The American Citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment states explicitly that “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.” The 14th Amendment also forbids any state from abridging the “privileges or immunities of citizens” and from denying to any person the “equal protection of the laws.”

“I would be very surprised if the case came to the Supreme Court that it were not decided 9-0,” said Linda Chavez, chair of the conservative think tank Center for Equal Opportunity, “and I just do not think that there – for all the reasons that have been stated here – that there is any basis on which a conservative justice of that court can look at the 14th Amendment and decide that it excludes children born in the United states as people who do not have immunity to our laws.”

Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center, also stressed during the panel that the idea of citizenship by blood is contrary to the fundamental American belief that all people are born equal. She said the intent of the Reconstruction Framers was to protect the issue of citizenship from the capricious and subjective political or public opinion of the day.

“The text of the Citizenship Clause grants automatic citizenship to all persons born on U.S. soil so that minority groups do not need to win a popular vote to enjoy the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizenship – they simply have to be born here,” Wydra said in a recent issue brief by the American Constitution Society

Garrett Epps, University of Baltimore School of Law professor, said that America cannot tolerate the formation of a permanent minority underclass or caste. He said the growth of a population of people living and working in the shadows without access to legalization should be our greatest concern.

“The fact of the matter is, all the time we spend talking about the 14th Amendment and the Citizenship Clause and Senator Pearce and everything is time we take away from what we really need, which is comprehensive immigration reform,” Epps said. Pearce is an Arizona state senator who has been prominent in efforts to narrow the scope of the Citizenship Clause.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in January helped organize a coalition of civil and human rights organizations and legal scholars called Americans for Constitutional Citizenship  (ACC), dedicated to preserving the integrity of our nation’s Constitution and its guarantee of citizenship to all persons born in the United States.  The coalition believes the Citizenship Clause has served as a cornerstone of the movement to secure civil rights for all Americans and has played an important role in unifying America's great cultural diversity.

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