Sen. Vitter Drags Out Desperate 14th Amendment Attacks

April 07, 2011 12:02 pm ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Yesterday afternoon on Fox News, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) discussed his new bill that would end birthright citizenship without changing the Constitution. After exaggerating statistics on birth tourism and the number of babies born to illegal immigrants, Vitter explained that the Constitution already calls for the end of birthright citizenship — even though judges have upheld the present interpretation of the 14th amendment for over 100 years. Vitter was confident that because the amendment is subject to "a fundamental matter of constitutional interpretation," all that has to happen is for Congress to weigh in.

VITTER: It's very real problem. About 200,000 women annually come into this country from other countries legally, with the tourist visa, something like that, to give birth in this country so that child can automatically become a U.S. citizen. Two hundred thousand a year. ... Same thing happening with illegal aliens, 300,000 to 400,000 babies born to at least one illegal alien parent every year. 

JON SCOTT (REPORTER): The 14th amendment says that a baby born on American soil is of American citizenship. How would your bill change that?

VITTER: It doesn't. The 14th amendment doesn't stop right there. It says you're a U.S. citizen if you're born in this country, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Very specific words that the framers put in. You know, it's a fundamental matter of constitutional interpretation that words have meaning. If the words are there, they need to mean something. They must mean some additional limitation. So what we have is a statute for Congress to speak to that limitation, and say only kids born of U.S. citizen parents to U.S. citizen parents, even one, are a U.S. citizen. If you're born of two noncitizen parents, you're not automatically a U.S. citizen just because the baby happened to be born here. 


First, Vitter's claim that "200,000 women annually" are entering the United States under the guise of birth tourism to have children is wildly exaggerated. In addition, Vitter states that "300,000 to 400,000 babies [are] born to at least one immigrant parent" as evidence that there is a pandemic of pregnant illegal immigrants entering the U.S. Again, Vitter's statistic is wildly exaggerated, but also logically flawed: Vitter concedes later in the interview that "kids born of U.S. citizen parents to U.S. citizen parents, even one, are a U.S. citizen."

Second, the crux of Vitter's argument — that Congress can unilaterally pass a law denying citizenship to children of non-citizen parents born in the U.S. — rests upon language in the 14th amendment, which states that people born in the U.S. must be "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" to be citizens. But as the American Immigration Council's Michele Waslin states, "Of course they're [undocumented immigrants] under our jurisdiction. ... If they commit a crime, they're subject to the jurisdiction of the courts." The Supreme Court agrees, and despite the fact that Vitter seems to think that Congress can just make a law undoing 100 years of Supreme Court precedent, it's unlikely that the courts will go along.