WASHINGTON -- A simple reform would drain some scalding steam from immigration arguments that may soon again be at a roiling boil. It would bring the interpretation of the 14th Amendment into conformity with what the authors of its text intended, and with common sense, thereby removing an incentive for illegal immigration.
To end the practice of "birthright citizenship," all that is required is to correct the misinterpretation of that amendment's first sentence: "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." From these words has flowed the practice of conferring citizenship on children born here to illegal immigrants.
A parent from a poor country, writes professor Lino Graglia of the University of Texas law school, "can hardly do more for a child than make him or her an American citizen, entitled to all the advantages of the American welfare state." Therefore, "It is difficult to imagine a more irrational and self-defeating legal system than one which makes unauthorized entry into this country a criminal offense and simultaneously provides perhaps the greatest possible inducement to illegal entry."
Writing in the Texas Review of Law and Politics, Graglia says this irrationality is rooted in a misunderstanding of the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." What was this intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.
If those who wrote and ratified the 14th Amendment had imagined laws restricting immigration -- and had anticipated huge waves of illegal immigration -- is it reasonable to presume they would have wanted to provide the reward of citizenship to the children of the violators of those laws? Surely not.