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Congressional Immigration Caucus

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. DEAL of Georgia. Thank you, Mr. Bilbray.

Mr. Speaker, as we approach this topic of dealing with the ever-increasing problem of illegal immigration in this country, it is certainly one with many facets. But the one that I would like to address briefly tonight is the issue that relates to birthright citizenship. Let me define it, first of all. It is the extension of citizenship to any child born on American soil, regardless of the legal status of the parents of that child.

The United States does just that. But we are in an ever-increasing minority in the world community. Currently, there are approximately 141 nations that do not grant birthright citizenship.

And there are only about 35 countries that do, the United States being one of those. In fact, every country in Europe no longer grants birthright citizenship. Ireland was the last of those countries, and in 2004 by popular vote, they no longer grant birthright citizenship. Israel doesn't, Japan doesn't, virtually every country on the face of the earth with the exception of the United States have recognized that the right of citizenship is indeed one of the most precious rights, and it should not be extended to those who have broken our law and who are illegally in our country.

Just as the overall immigration issue has many facets, so does the issue of birthright citizenship. First of all, there is the question of, how do you solve the problem? The real difficulty comes from the fact that the current interpretation is based on an interpretation of the language of the 14th amendment.

Many legal scholars believe that the intention of the 14th amendment, which had as its primary purpose to settle the issue of citizenship for individuals who were formerly slaves, has been perverted to extend it to birthright citizenship for anyone born on American soil. There are certainly legitimate arguments that can be made on both sides of the issue. But the one that I think focuses most clearly on whether or not it was the intention of the writers of the 14th amendment to include this issue is demonstrated in the language that comes out of the debates that surrounded the adoption of that amendment.

The reality is, though, that many of the court cases upon which people rely today to say that we automatically extend citizenship to anyone born on our soil regardless of the legal status of their parents, comes from a day and a time when the United States did not have immigration laws in place, did not have in place laws that distinguished between those who were legally in our country and those who were not. We, of course, now live in a day and a time when those laws are in place, albeit they are not very well enforced most of the time.

But what is the cost of this issue of birthright citizenship? I think there is a legitimate argument that can be made to say that birthright citizenship is one of those magnets that contributes to illegal immigration in the first place. Consider the latest statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies in which they say that there are approximately 383,000 children born every year to illegal immigrants. That is, about 42 percent of the births to all immigrants in this country are to illegal immigrants to this country, and that births to illegal immigrants now account for one out of every ten births in the United States. One out of every ten children born in this country is being born to someone, a parent, who had no legal right to be here.

What are the financial costs associated with it? We all know that illegal immigration in and of itself places huge financial strains on local governments in providing education, in providing health care, and on State governments in the same way, and also on the Federal Government.

The Center for Immigration Studies found that the cost to United States taxpayers for the cost of illegal immigration is approximately $10.4 billion a year. And a large part of that cost is attributable to babies born to illegal immigrants.

In my State of Georgia, for example, I am told that a non-Caesarian section child delivery with no complications costs approximately $2,720. Now you multiply that figure, and probably my State's cost is less than the national average, but you multiply that by the 383,000-plus births every year, and you can instantly see that just in that initial health care delivery cost, it is a very significant sum.

But what does birthright citizenship then also do to our system? First of all, in 1996, when we passed the Immigration Reform Act, one of the things that many people have bragged about was a provision that said in general terms that if you are illegally in this country, you are not going to be entitled to any social benefits other than education at the elementary and secondary level and emergency medical care.

Now, we make a mockery of that by virtue of birthright citizenship because even though we say we are not going to extend those social services, by giving a child of an illegal immigrant citizenship status, you immediately have TANF, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, whatever term you call it in your community, those kinds of welfare social benefits flow through the child. There are also food stamps and housing subsidy benefits, and who are you going to deliver them to, a new child? Of course not. Those social benefits in the form of cash and other indicia of benefits flow through the hands of the illegal parents.

And are you going to deport the parents, an illegal immigrant who has given birth to a child who is a United States citizen? I say you probably are not, and the statistics bear me out.

So I would simply say, Mr. Speaker, if somebody is concerned about these issues, the next time they have to wait in line in the doctor's office or in the hospital or in the waiting room of the emergency clinic, or the next time that they are in the grocery checkout line and somebody is paying for food with food stamps and it is fairly apparent that they are not legally in this country and you want to know why, the why lies in birthright citizenship that is being granted to a child of that illegal immigrant.

Now, as I say, we are in the distinct minority in the world community of continuing to allow this practice to occur. I, along with Mr. Bilbray and Mr. King and many others in our conference, are authors of legislation that would attempt to correct this serious problem that we have.

Many who would dispute whether or not this is a part of the magnet that draws people into our country and to cross our borders illegally should take reference to a statement contained in one of the publications from the Department of Homeland Security. I would like to read from that publication. It says, ``An industry has developed around this practice,' that is, crossing the border illegally specifically to give birth, ``with travel agents specializing in birth tours and clinics providing post-natal care, which includes transportation services. For those seeking entry into this country, it is a small price to pay for legal entry and social benefits that accrue with citizenship.'

So our own Department of Homeland Security acknowledges that it is indeed one of those magnets that causes us to have a problem with illegal immigration.

In 2002, it was reported by the Los Angeles Times in a study that they did looking at South Korea, and what they found was that since South Korea allows dual citizenship, that is both South Korea and United States citizenship, for a child born in the United States, they found that South Korea was hosting these so-called birth tours which were intended to bring pregnant women to the United States so they could deliver their child here and that child would be a United States citizen.

Now, they probably returned back to South Korea with that child. So what would be their motivation? Well, first of all, they would be entitled to the benefits of American citizenship, but another added advantage, since South Korea is a country that requires universal military service, it is a way of excluding that child from the requirements of South Korea that they be inducted into their military services. So it has consequences, not just to us, but to some of our allies such as South Korea.

So I would simply thank Mr. Bilbray for the time you have allotted me tonight to speak on this issue. Hopefully, we will see some action on this issue of birthright citizenship. It can stand alone, or it can travel as a part of a more comprehensive immigration reform package; but I submit that unless we address this problem, it is only going to get worse. It is going to only magnify the ever-increasing problem of illegal immigration, and I would urge my colleagues to join with me and you and Mr. King and others in sponsoring the legislation that we have tailored to try to address this problem.


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