EDITORIAL: Anchor babies away

Addressing welfare state key to immigration reform

Eight percent of babies born in U.S. hospitals in 2008 had mothers who were illegal aliens, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. Such newborns bring significant societal costs. Because their parents are poor, the families contribute little in taxes while at the same time relying heavily on government services.

For example, with $593 billion spent at the federal and state level on public elementary and secondary schools, boosting enrollment by 8 percent would likely represent $47 billion in additional costs. Given the language barriers, these new entrants undoubtedly represent an above-average expense. Subsidizing these costs brings to mind the dilemma raised by the late Milton Friedman, who warned of that free immigration and a welfare state should never be combined.

The problem is growing, and Republicans like House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio think one of the solutions that should at least be on the table for discussion is ending the birthright citizenship that has created the so-called “anchor baby” phenomenon. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, at one time recognized this as a problem (see Kerry Picket’s piece on the facing page).

The current practice of granting automatic citizen status to children born in the United States to non-citizen parents derives from a disputed provision of the 14th Amendment which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the States wherein they reside.” The precise meaning of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction” opens a question of whether amending the Constitution is needed to end the practice.

A plurality of Americans, 49 percent, are willing to do just that, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll. However, such an effort only addresses a symptom of problems that run much deeper. First, our borders are hopelessly insecure. Until the ease of entry into this country is fixed, the steady flow of illegal immigrants will continue. Second, our overly generous welfare state provides financial incentives for people to leave Mexico and come to the United States. Amending the Constitution takes immense effort, and the most recent efforts to modify this governing document have failed. Neither securing the border nor curbing the welfare state requires the effort of a constitutional amendment. We will not solve our immigration problems until we first tackle the two core issues.

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