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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

We Asked an Expert What Would Happen if America Actually Banned 'Anchor Babies'

What if the next president could just swish his star-spangled magic wand and end birthright citizenship once and for all?
Esteban Trejo, a member of a group of immigration rights activists from Minnesota, stands with a US flag outside of an Iowa campaign event for Ted Cruz. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Maintaining his xenophobic immigration rhetoric more steadfastly than an Olympian's exercise routine, Señor Donald Trump drove last week's GOP crusade around his latest tirade: stop letting just any US-born baby get legal papers. Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday, Trump advocated denying American citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants. Those kids, he argued, are the next worst drain on our economy, after their parents.


"They've got to go…What they're doing: they're having a baby. And then all of a sudden nobody knows—the baby's here," Trump told host Chuck Todd of undocumented migrants. "They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country, or we don't have a country."

After sparking a media frenzy, trending on Twitter all week, and eliciting a range of responses from the other presidential candidates, Trump defended his stance later on CNN.

"You have people on the border and in one day they walk over have a baby and now all of the sudden we're supposed to pay the baby medical and social security?" he lamented.

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Most media outlets, including this one, noted that Trump's incendiary proposal was basically impossible, since it would require repealing the 14th Amendment, which has been in place since 1868. But I was curious: What if the next president could just swish his star-spangled magic wand and end birthright citizenship once and for all? So I asked Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of US immigration policy at the Migration Policy Institute, to illuminate what would happen in that scenario.


VICE: Trump and some of the other GOP candidates have suggested that the US should stop guaranteeing birthright citizenship for kids of undocumented immigrants. How would that actually be enforced?
Marc Rosenblum: Right now anybody born in a US hospital gets a U.S. birth certificate, which by definition makes [him or her] a US citizen. So if you required parents to be legally in the country for their children to be citizens, hospitals would have to check people's immigration status. Hospitals might use the SAVE system system, an electronic system federal welfare programs use to check if people are documented. Presumably a child with undocumented parents would still get a birth certificate—it would just be marked as ineligible for citizenship.

Would one or both parents have to be documented?
Trump hasn't made that clear. The law could be modified to say a citizen must be born in the US with one lawfully present parent, or with both.

How many people would this affect?
The undocumented population could more than double by the year 2050. Right now we have 11 million undocumented people—and we found in a 2010 report that the number would grow by 13 million to 24 million by 2050, if you required both parents to be legally in the US for a child to have citizenship. If you required one parent to be legally here, it would grow by about 6 million. These would be people born in the US—some [would] even [be] the grandchildren of undocumented immigrants.


Could the policy change encourage undocumented immigrants to leave the US?
We have no evidence of people self-deporting because they're ineligible for citizenship. Apart from being deported, you don't see immigrants leaving the US. It doesn't make sense to think that more people would leave.

So what would happen to all these undocumented, US-born kids?
Well we do know unauthorized immigrants face structural disadvantages, as far as access to education and jobs. They're systematically poorer and less economically mobile than authorized immigrants. One of the [things the] US struggles [with] is its large undocumented population, but there has been a limit to that because the children of undocumented immigrants are able to access more advantages, so they're more mobile. Without birthright citizenship, you'd see a more permanent underclass. That has ripple effects for all Americans because this class would be paying fewer taxes and contributing less to the US economy.

If undocumented people know their kids can't be citizens, might they decide to have fewer children?
I'm skeptical that fertility rates would change much, but they could. But that could actually hurt our demographics. Because we've attracted a large number of migrants, we don't have an aging population in comparison with some other developed countries [like Japan] that now have too many old people relative to young people.


Can you tell me a little about how birthright citizenship got started in the US
The Constitution originally did not define rules for citizenship, but the 14th Amendment, which passed in 1868, has very direct language that [says] any child born in the US is a citizen. It was originally passed primarily to clarify that the children of slaves were citizens, but in 1898 the Supreme Court clarified in the case of Wong Kim Ark that the amendment applied to children born in the US to non-citizens.

The US is far from the only nation with birthright citizenship, right?
Almost all countries in the Western Hemisphere have jus solis citizenship, meaning citizenship is based on the soil where you're born. These are countries that wrote their rules for citizenship in a period [when there were] a lot of immigrants. But some countries, like Germany and France, base citizenship off of blood. These countries really struggle to integrate foreign populations over time. This is famously a problem in Germany—there was an influx of Turkish guest workers in the 1950s and 60s, and their children and grandchildren still don't identify as German.

Trump and the other Republicans, including Jeb Bush, have been reviving the "anchor baby" argument—that migrants are coming to have babies in the country, so the parents can have a better chance at gaining legal status. How much is that an actual motivator for immigration?
There's literally no social science research that documents unauthorized immigrants coming and giving birth here to benefit their own immigration plans. And even if an immigrant gives birth to a US citizen, that child can't sponsor the parent to legally be here until the child is 21 years old. A baby or a teenager can't sponsor his or her parents.

Trump admitted last week that passing a constitutional amendment ending birthright citizenship would be nearly impossible. But there's currently a fight to deprive undocumented mothers of rights at the local level. Can you talk about that?
There are currently jurisdictions in Texas seeking to deny birth certificates to people whose parents can't prove their citizenship. A group of parents is suing Texas' Department of State Health Services against this in a federal court in Austin. Texas is creating a real problem for these kids because the kids are entitled to citizenship but they need to prove their identity to get a passport and a social security card, which are ways to prove citizenship. In theory the court could use this case as an opportunity to open up a broader review of birthright citizenship, but it's not likely.

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