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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Citizenship a constitutional right for children of the undocumented

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states 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.”

That should be fairly unambiguous. “All persons” means “all persons.” Everyone born on U.S. soil should be considered a citizen, regardless of their parentage.

And yet, a recent controversy in Texas has sparked questions about this amendment and issues of birthright citizenship.

Specifically, in order to obtain the birth certificate of a child born in the U.S., the parents must present a form of identification. If they can’t provide a green card or work authorization papers, they have to provide two forms of secondary identification. This is where the problem is coming in. Almost all of the secondary forms of ID also require citizenship.

Previously, Texas accepted a form of identification called the matrícula consular as a secondary form of ID. The matrícula is a form of identification for Mexican nationals living outside of Mexico. Obtaining one requires the presentation of at least two forms of identity to the Mexican consulate, along with some proof of their address in the US.

The matrícula is controversial because the documents required to obtain one can be falsified. There have been issues in the past when individuals have been able to create multiple identities using the cards. It’s currently a hot-button topic in many popular immigration states as to whether the cards should be used to gain access to sensitive areas like banks or public events that could be targets for terrorism.

While it’s worth noting that the Mexican government has revamped the security features of the card so that they are comparable to U.S. drivers’ licenses, the security of the matrícula is not the real issue here. Notably, in 2008 Texas quietly stopped considering it an acceptable form of identification for obtaining a child’s birth certificate. That measure wasn’t enforced across the board until recently, but it is being enforced now.

Birth certificates are incredibly important when it comes to proving citizenship or reaping its benefits. Not only are they a gateway into almost every other form of government paperwork, like drivers’ licenses and passports, but they are also important for enrollment in schools or healthcare options.

Essentially, what this means is that undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children cannot really consider their children citizens. This is, quite frankly, unconstitutional. At least two legal groups — the Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc. — are suing the state on the behalf of the undocumented.

Predictably, the state is trying to make this issue center around the reliability of the matrícula as a form of identification, pointing to its lack of security. That shouldn’t be the focus, though.

As Jennifer Harbury, who represents the families, told The Texas Tribune, “Our argument isn’t ‘yes matrícula, no matrícula.’ The argument is ‘what will you take that people can actually get?’ They have to take something. [The children] were born here. They are U.S. citizens.”

Mexico’s consulate recently issued an amicus brief — essentially a statement on the case — in support of the children and their families. The brief implies strongly that failing to give the children their rights as citizens could threaten relationships between the two countries.

This is the latest in a long line of attempts by conservatives in border states to reduce or eliminate the right of birthright citizenship. 

Even Arizona has attempted laws in the past that would create another tier of birth certificate for the children of the undocumented, citing that their parents are taking advantage of the citizenship rule.

But that isn’t the point. Conservatives are welcome to make all the attempts they would like to change the 14th Amendment to something more to their taste. Until then, denying U.S.-born children their citizenship is unconstitutional and should be stopped.

More importantly, perhaps conservatives should remember the original intent of the 14th Amendment, which was to prevent the discrimination against citizenship based on creed, gender or race. That message is still vital today, and undermining it is something that should not be taken lightly.

Follow Maddie Pickens on Twitter.

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