News Release: Faculty Experts, Law, Politics

Apr. 15,  2011

Repealing the 14th Amendment Has Many Repercussions, Emory Expert Says

Those who want to repeal the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution guaranteeing citizenship for any person born in this country should consider all the repercussions, says Emory law professor and immigration and citizenship expert Polly Price.

“[Birthright citizenship] was enshrined in the 14th Amendment for a reason,” Price explains. “So, to reject it in my view is to reject the legacy of the Civil War, it’s to reject the legacy of a welcoming community and the idea that all citizens are equal.”

The History of the 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 to overturn the Dred Scott decision, which made it illegal for any person of African descent to become a citizen. The Amendment, placed in the Constitution shortly after the Civil War, resolved the status of the former slaves. The 13th Amendment freed the slaves, and the 14th Amendment made them citizens.

“To overturn that decision, [the 14th Amendment] had to be put into the Constitution,” says Price. “And, it was done so in a way that applied to all persons, not just former slaves.”

The Controversy

Some politicians want to rid the Constitution of the 14th Amendment because it allows any person to become a citizen, whether the parents are legal or illegal residents. Price doesn’t think nullifying the 14th Amendment is the way to go.

“You create a real problem of statelessness for persons. For example, you have a number of undocumented aliens who have lived here for a long time. If they were to be deported, the country of origin might not claim them, might not accept them.  And, therefore, might not accept an assignment of citizenship of that child. So, you could have a situation where no country claims that child,” Price explains.

The “Anchor Baby” Myth

One term politicians use to describe some children born in the United States to illegal immigrants is “anchor baby,” meaning that the parents come to this country purely to have a child so that they are then “anchored” here.  Price says the term is a myth because most illegal aliens who have children here have been in the country for a long time. 

“The United States can and does deport parents of U.S. citizen children if they themselves are undocumented,” Price says. “And often, if the child is a minor, they are deported with the parents.  They have a right to return at any point, but it’s not an automatic anchor for the parents.”


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