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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, America's illegal immigration problem is clearly way out of control. We can all agree that we desperately need to better protect our borders, ensure that only citizens and legal residents can be hired for jobs in this country, and reverse misguided policies that serve as a magnet for further illegal immigration.

Today, I am introducing a bill that falls into that third category, to get rid of these magnets that encourage further illegal activity. The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationalization Act in order to change our current practice of granting automatic citizenship to the children of illegal aliens born on American soil. When it comes to U.S. citizenship, it is not just where an individual is born that matters, at least it should not be. The circumstances of the person's birth and the nationality of his or her parents are of at least equal importance. I simply do not believe our Constitution confers citizenship on children who happen to be born on U.S. soil when both of their parents are foreign tourists or illegal aliens. The Constitution does not mandate or require that. Yet that is our policy.

Each year, 300,000 to 400,000 children are born in the United States to at least one parent who is an illegal alien or a foreign tourist. A significant subset of that number includes children born to two parents who are not U.S. citizens--the category my bill attacks. Despite the illegal status and foreign citizenship of the parent, the executive branch of our government now automatically recognizes these children as U.S. citizens upon birth. This practice is not mandated by Federal law or the Constitution. It is based on what I believe is a fundamental misunderstanding of the 14th amendment of the Constitution. As such, this policy is incompatible with both the text and legislative history of the citizenship clause. I don't think the 14th amendment grants this birthright citizenship to children of illegal aliens. In fact, all we have to do is look at history and the actual text of the Constitution as our guide.

The 14th amendment does not say all persons born in the United States are citizens, period, end of story. It states that citizenship extends to ``all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.''

This latter phrase is important. It is conveniently ignored or misconstrued by advocates of birthright citizenship. But, of course, a fundamental rule in terms of constitutional interpretation is that words are assumed to be there for a purpose. If those words had no meaning, had no impact, then the Founders would not have written them into that part of the Constitution.

Its original meaning refers to the political allegiance of an individual and the jurisdiction a foreign government has over that person. That is why American Indians and their children did not become citizens until Congress actually passed the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

I am introducing today's legislation because it is apparent that Congress must reassert its plenary authority over naturalization and make clear that ``subject to the jurisdiction thereof'' does not include children born in this country to illegal aliens or foreign tourists. Those parents are clearly subject to the jurisdiction of foreign governments.

My bill limits birthright citizenship to individuals born in the United States to at least one parent who is a legal citizen, a green card holder, or an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Congress clearly has the power to determine that children born in the United States to illegal aliens are not subject to American jurisdiction.

As Judge Richard Posner, of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, held in a 2003 case: ``Congress would not be flouting the Constitution if it amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to put an end to this nonsense.'' That is exactly what my bill would do, put an end to this nonsense.

Closing this loophole will not prevent anyone from becoming a naturalized citizen. Instead, it will ensure that he or she has to go through the same process as anyone else born of foreign national parents who wants to become a U.S. citizen.

Our practice of birthright citizenship is clearly an incentive to illegal immigration. It does a disservice to every would-be citizen who is actually following the rules, applying to be naturalized, standing in line, often for a very long time.

This misguided policy of birthright citizenship not only undermines the stability of our immigration system, but it has severe fiscal consequences as well as serious national security implications. Recent news reports have highlighted the growing popularity of what is known as birth tourism.

Web sites actually advertise birth packages for foreign visitors so pregnant women can give birth in the United States and ensure automatic citizenship, under current practice, for their newborn children. Of course, with that automatic citizenship comes the full benefits thereof, including unlimited travel to the United States, educational benefits, and the ability to settle here as an adult and eventually, down the line, the ability to grab back the parents and get them into U.S. citizenship.

One such agency that appeals to foreign mothers to be by describing the benefits of American-born children, pointing out that a one-time investment in a birth package will result in a lifetime of benefits for their family was in the news recently. Specifically, it says: Your children will be able to attend U.S. public elementary schools and they may apply for scholarships designated for U.S. citizens and they are entitled to welfare benefits--all of this explicitly spelled out in the advertising for this agency.

Just last month, authorities in California shut down a makeshift maternity clinic after discovering 10 newborns and one dozen Chinese women who paid as much as $35,000 to travel to this country to give birth to children who would automatically be recognized as U.S. citizens.

Birth tourism, as amazing as this is, is not a new phenomenon, as women from other countries have long traveled to the United States legally, on tourist or student visas, and given birth while here. However, recent reports indicate that the practice is escalating. A new report by the Center for Immigration Studies finds that every year 200,000 children are born to women who were lawfully admitted to the United States on a temporary basis.

Each of these children receive U.S. citizenship, despite their mother's allegiance to a different country and even if the father is not a U.S. citizen. Birth tourism is certainly a reprehensible practice, but it is not an illegal one. It is astounding that the U.S. Government allows individuals to exploit the loopholes of our immigration system in this manner. It is obvious that Congress has the authority and the obligation to put an end to it.

In addition to this birth tourism--and by that I refer to focusing on tourists here legally under a tourist visa. Of course, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of children born in this country to two illegal immigrant parents, and those children, under the same practice, automatically become U.S. citizens.

This, too, is a very dangerous practice, a magnet to attract more and more illegal activity across the border, when we say we want to do everything to stop that. Certainly, if we truly want to do everything we can to stop that, we need to unplug those magnets, stop that policy from attracting more and more illegal crossings across the border.

So I introduce this important legislation today, and I thank Senators Paul and Lee and Moran for joining me in addressing this critical issue. I invite all the Members of the Senate to join me in doing this.

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