A recent article in the Houston Chronicle discusses the problem of so-called anchor babies, children born in U.S. hospitals to illegal immigrant parents. These children automatically become citizens, and thus serve as an anchor for their parents to remain in the country. Our immigration authorities understandably are reluctant to break up families by deporting parents of young babies. But birthright citizenship, originating in the 14th amendment, has become a serious cultural and economic dilemma for our nation. In some Houston hospitals, administrators estimate that 70 or 80% of the babies born have parents who are in the country illegally. As an obstetrician in south Texas for several decades, I can attest to the severity of the problem.
It’s the same story in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. And the truth is most illegal immigrants who have babies in U.S. hospitals do not have health insurance and do not pay their hospital bills. This obviously cannot be sustained, either by the hospitals involved or the taxpayers who end up paying the bills. No other wealthy, western nations grant automatic citizenship to those who simply happen to be born within their borders to non-citizens. These nations recognize that citizenship involves more than the physical location of one’s birth; it also involves some measure of cultural connection and allegiance. In most cases this means the parents must be citizens of a nation in order for their newborn children to receive automatic citizenship. Make no mistake, Americans are happy to welcome immigrants who follow our immigration laws and seek a better life here.
America is far more welcoming and tolerant of newcomers than virtually any nation on earth. But our modern welfare state creates perverse incentives for immigrants, incentives that cloud the issue of why people choose to come here. The real problem is not immigration, but rather the welfare state magnet. Hospitals bear the costs when illegal immigrants enter the country for the express purpose of giving birth. But illegal immigrants also use emergency rooms, public roads, and public schools. In many cases they are able to obtain Medicaid, food stamps, public housing, and even unemployment benefits. Some have fraudulently collected Social Security benefits. Of course many American citizens also use or abuse the welfare system. But we cannot afford to open our pocketbooks to the rest of the world. We must end the perverse incentives that encourage immigrants to come here illegally, including the anchor baby incentive. I’ve introduced legislation that would amend the Constitution and end automatic birthright citizenship.
The 14th amendment was ratified in 1868, on the heels of the Civil War. The country, especially the western territories, was wide open and ripe for homesteading. There was no welfare state to exploit, and the modern problems associated with immigration could not have been imagined. Our founders knew that unforeseen problems with our system of government would arise, and that’s precisely why they gave us a method for amending the Constitution. It’s time to rethink birthright citizenship by amending the 14th amendment.