Annual Meeting 2011

Hispanic Rights Commission to Ask ABA to Take Stand Against Efforts to Limit Birthright Citizenship


The ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates is being asked to take a stand opposing efforts to limit the right to U.S. citizenship for anyone born in this country, regardless of the status of their parents.

The recommendation, submitted as a late report (PDF) by the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities, will be considered by the House when it convenes Monday during the 2011 ABA Annual Meeting being held in Toronto.

The recommendation calls on the ABA to urge Congress to reject any proposed amendment to the Constitution that would change the manner in which citizenship is granted to any person born in the U.S. in accordance with the 14th Amendment—often referred to as birthright citizenship. Under the recommendation, the ABA also would oppose legislative efforts to alter the right of citizenship under the 14th Amendment.

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified after the end of the Civil War, 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.” Under current interpretations, only children born in this country to diplomatic personnel and children born to a military force occupying the United States would not be covered by the citizenship clause.

But there are growing efforts to change how the citizenship clause is applied. Legislation now in Congress proposes an amendment to the Constitution that would deny citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. without at least one parent who is a citizen, lawful permanent resident or immigrant in active military service. Efforts have also been made at both the federal and state levels to impose limits on who is eligible for citizenship through legislative measures. Earlier this year, State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a coalition of elected officials in more than 40 states, announced their plans to pursue this effort.

In its report supporting the recommendation to the House of Delegates, the Hispanic Rights Commission expressed its concern that efforts to alter U.S. citizenship rules pose a particular threat to this country’s growing Hispanic community. “Efforts to restrict the right of citizenship under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution are a significant threat to the civil rights of Latinas and Latinos in the United States, including their right to participate fully in the United States legal system,” the report states.

Earlier today, speakers at a program echoed the concerns expressed in the commission’s report to the House.

Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, put the debate over birthright citizenship in the context of the larger debate over how the Constitution should be interpreted. “It’s hard not to view this reinvigorated debate as a reflection of a growing interest by states in nullifying long-standing constitutional doctrine,” he said.

At the program, John Eastman, a law professor and former dean at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif., who has been a leading proponent of reconsidering birthright citizenship, maintained that the real actual meaning of the citizenship clause still is a matter of conjecture that has never been fleshed out adequately by the courts. He also said the interest of the states in who is granted citizenship should be acknowledged.

But Bruce J. Einhorn, a retired judge, longtime civil rights activist and adjunct professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif., argued that restricting citizenship laws would be a retreat from one of the most important legal achievements in U.S. history. Those efforts would, he said, “assign a bill to children for the ‘sins’ of their parents. It is antithetical to notions of due process, equal protection and human dignity.”

The Commission on Immigration was the primary sponsor of the program. Materials can be found here.

Last updated at 12:11 p.m. Monday to note that the Commission on Immigration was the primary sponsor and to add a link to program materials.

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