Right-Wing Media's Dangerous “Birthright Citizenship Nonsense” Makes It To Congress, Again

The right-wing media's calls to end birthright citizenship -- a constitutional guarantee -- have been repeated incessantly over the years and have once again found a sympathetic ear in Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who recently re-introduced legislation that would supposedly “prevent children born in the U.S. of foreign national parents from gaining automatic U.S. citizenship.”

Conservative media figures going back to Glenn Beck in his Fox News days have railed against so-called “anchor babies” and “birth tourism,” the former a derogatory slur and debunked myth used against U.S. born children of non-citizens, the latter of which represents a sliver of births that experts have repeatedly pointed out are "extraordinarily rare" and an insignificant immigration problem. As Salon's Simon Maloy recently wrote, this “grossly nativist and legally dubious” rhetoric has nevertheless found a receptive audience in Republican legislators on both the state and federal levels.

At the same time, right-wing media continue their drumbeat on this issue, most prominently ABC contributor and talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who has called ending the constitutional guarantee of citizenship at birth a "common sense step." This is nothing new for Ingraham, a self-proclaimed influence on Republican politics who has repeatedly condemned "birthright citizenship nonsense."

On the March 10 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly joined the chorus when he heard that children born in the U.S. automatically receive citizenship -- “the baby gets the passport” -- and declared, “That law's got to change.” In the segment, which focused on “birth tourism” by Chinese parents, O'Reilly concluded, “This law is being abused like crazy. It's got to be changed. That should not be a hard thing to do.”

In fact, that would be an extremely hard thing to do -- it would require amending the U.S. Constitution or overturning centuries of post-Civil War Supreme Court precedent.

O'Reilly and his guests -- Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor, and contributor Lis Wiehl, also a lawyer -- ignored the fact that it's not merely a “law” that confers citizenship to children born in the United States -- it's the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, intended to ensure equal protection for all in the wake of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, unequivocally states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States.” This amendment has long been understood to grant birthright citizenship, and that interpretation has been re-affirmed by the Supreme Court since as far back as 1898. James C. Ho, the former solicitor general of Texas, explained in 2011 that birthright citizenship was intended “to reverse the Supreme Court's notorious 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling denying citizenship to slaves” and their children, and challenging its legality is “wasting taxpayer funds on a losing court battle, reopening the scars of the Civil War, and offending our Constitution and the rule of law.”

But conservative media's radical calls for the end of birthright citizenship continue to make headway with Republicans in Congress.

On March 10, Vitter re-introduced his Birthright Citizenship Act, which would “close a loophole by clarifying that birthright citizenship is only given to the children of U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens.” In announcing this legislation, Vitter claimed that allowing birthright citizenship is based on “a fundamental misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment,” suggesting that the framers of the amendment, the Supreme Court, and legal experts have been wrong about its plain language for the last 150 years.

An alternate explanation for Vitter's legislation -- other than pure confusion -- is that this is intended to be unconstitutional and represents a “test case” expected to be repeatedly struck down in the federal courts on the way to the Supreme Court. Although GOP senators have shied away from acknowledging this, right-wing anti-immigration activists like Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach have plainly admitted as much.

Right-wing media is not quite so honest in its calls to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, choosing instead to baselessly scaremonger about “anchor babies” and “birth tourism.”