Blog

Representative Steve King Introduces Bill that Harms America’s Children

Children of Immigrants

One of the first bills (H.R.140) of the 113th Congress, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), is a tired idea that would make children of undocumented immigrant parents ineligible for “birthright citizenship,” the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment that grants all babies born in this country U.S. citizenship. A similar bill was introduced by King in the 112th Congress, and First Focus released a comprehensive fact sheet on the negative effects such proposals would have on children and the nation. The new bill, like the old one, is still extremely harmful for children, unconstitutional, and represents a major step backwards on civil rights. The bill also does nothing to advance the interests of children or the nation as a whole, and completely disregards pressing issues facing children, such as immigration reform, gun control, child poverty, child health, child hunger, and improving the education system.

HR 140 hurts kids. All babies born here have a right to and deserve to be citizens because every child should have the chance to grow, thrive, and contribute to our country. This is such an integral American value that it has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1868. Birthright citizenship is a fundamental requirement for equality, and it ensures that children have access to important health care, food assistance and other basic services that are essential to healthy development in the early years of a child’s life. Taking birthright citizenship away would also increase the number of undocumented individuals in the U.S. and likely create an underclass of stateless children. Taking away U.S. citizenship for certain children does not guarantee that a different country will grant those babies citizenship, putting many children in legal limbo without a country to legally call home. This would cause a major step backward for the country by creating a problem that countries around the world are struggling to solve, primarily in underdeveloped countries. Stateless children around the world already face homelessness and poverty, lack access to education, and are at great risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. This is not what we want for any child, and we should not encourage it for our own kids with harmful bills like HR 140.

Additionally, if babies born here are not automatically citizens there would have to be a process in place for families to apply for or register their children as citizens, adding unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy when a family needs to be focused on raising their newborn. During this process, children would be unable to access the basic services above when they need them most. This would negatively impact all children, including children in native-born families, and it would have the largest negative effect on children in low-income families, exactly those babies who need and would benefit most from this assistance.

Furthermore, limiting birthright citizenship does not address any of the real and pressing problems with our immigration system. In fact, this bill would increase the number of undocumented individuals in this country and is based on the false premise that undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. and have children here so they can become U.S. citizens. Our immigration system does not work like that. On the contrary, our immigration law often separates families through deportation because it ignores or completely disregards the unique needs of children, as Michigan State University College of Law professor David B. Thronson points out in a paper in the forthcoming anthology Children in harm’s way: Criminal Justice, Immigration Enforcement, and Child Welfare, jointly published by The Sentencing Project and First Focus.

While an individual can apply for citizenship based on a petition from their U.S. citizen family members (a process that also needs reform), a U.S. citizen child cannot file a petition for their undocumented parents to obtain lawful immigration status until the child is over 21-years-old, meaning that parents would have to wait over two decades before their U.S. citizen could impact their immigration status. Additionally, undocumented parents who face deportation can hardly rely on their U.S. citizen children to put a stop to their deportation. When seeking a cancellation of removal, an individual must prove “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a U.S. citizen spouse, parent or child. If that hardship is on children, it must be “substantially different from, or beyond that which would normally be expected from the deportation of an alien with close family members here.” This means that children are expected to suffer vastly more hardship than a U.S. citizen spouse or parent for the child’s parent to be granted a cancellation of removal. Combined with increased immigration enforcement, this complete disregard for children’s best interest in immigration policy has had a devastating effect on families: nearly 205,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the 26 months between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012. Children impacted by immigration enforcement must face the threat of permanent family separation, with terrible results for children, communities, and our country.

U.S. immigration law needs reasonable, comprehensive reform that adequately addresses the needs of children in the U.S. and all mixed status families. Unfortunately, Representative King’s bill takes us a step back rather than moving us forward. It is an old idea that distracts from the serious matters at hand and would increase the number of undocumented individuals in the U.S. while making the immigration system more complex, harder to navigate, and more harmful for children and families.