Hispanic advocacy groups are pushing back against a presidential proposal to end granting United States citizenship for American-born children of undocumented immigrants.
The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
A 2016 report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 275,000 babies born to undocumented immigrant parents in 2014 received U.S. citizenship. That was about 7 percent of all American births, a decrease from 9 percent in 2006 when Pew estimated 370,000 children who received what is called Birthright Citizenship.
Mary Jose Espinoza is the oldest of four sisters in her family who are all American citizens born to Mexican parents. Espinoza’s parents crossed the border into California around 1990. She was born July 4, 1994. The family moved to North Carolina in 2005.
“There’s this irony that I was born on Independence Day, born here, and still my American-ness is being challenged each and every day,” Espinoza said.
“I was born here and I’m still under attack. I think that it also is (applicable) for future generations, like what does it mean if someone was undocumented now or having a baby, or if someone is DACA and having a baby? Just knowing that there’s this constant attack on immigrant families and their children,” she said.
“I think it sets a precedent of how we manipulate narratives around immigrants and their role in the United States, and their role in our country, and our role as humans is where this is getting at.”
Espinoza said there is also a very real fear now of citizenship being taken away. It is a fear her family has faced for years, she said.
Her mother recently received legal permanent resident status and is part of the way through a five-year waiting period before she can become an American citizen. Her father is working on obtaining permanent residency.
“My father actually had a really tricky case with a lawyer that turned out to be a fraud, so their pathway to adjusting their status has really been kind of challenging,” she said.
“In the current climate things are shifting so fast, so it’s hard to know which approach to take — for example in my father’s case — what would be the safest for us to keep him here, and what would be the most effective in making sure he is protected and able to stay with the rest of my family.”
Espinoza works as a civic engagement organizer for El Pueblo, Inc., a Raleigh-based Hispanic leadership development and advocacy organization. Members of El Pueblo’s Youth Council include DACA recipients, American-born children of undocumented immigrants, and some teens who are themselves undocumented.
El Pueblo Communications Coordinator William Saenz said the president’s proposal is a political tactic ahead of the midterm elections. Saenz said the announcement is also not fully explained as to how it would be applied.
“To kind of leave this open-ended possibility out there, in our opinion, really was kind of meant to stimulate or further create anti-immigrant sentiments within our country, particularly what we’ve seen with the refugees that are coming from Central America right now,” Saenz said.
“For us it’s basically just another way to get people to pit resident against resident as opposed to uniting people and kind of creating a positive community where all residents are safe in our country.”
Saenz was born in the United States. While his father is Mexican, his mother is from West Virginia so his U.S. citizenship would not be part of the birthright debate.
He said his status should be no different than Espinoza’s.
“We like to remind people that a lot of families came here, they’re asylum seekers, which is a perfectly legal option or course to take because a lot of families were coming from dangerous situations (including) poverty, crime, and violence. For them to come here, it was really a heroic act for them to be able to save and to create opportunities for their youth that they wouldn’t have had in their home countries,” Saenz said.
Trump’s presidential campaign speeches included comments about ending birthright citizenship, calling it a “magnet for illegal immigration.”
During a 2015 campaign stop in Florida, he said: “The birthright citizenship, the anchor baby, birthright citizenship, it’s over, not going to happen.”
Espinoza and Saenz said that terminology is derogatory.
“I don’t believe in the term ‘anchor babies.’ I think it’s just used as a very manipulative rhetoric that has been used and is very outdated. It fosters all this hate towards immigrants,” Espinoza said.
“I would be considered that, but I also do not choose to identify as that, and I don’t think that it is realistic to say that these families have children only to stay here, because the reality is that’s not true.”
The 2016 study by the Pew Research Center reported that 90 percent of undocumented immigrants who give birth in the U.S. arrived in the country more than two years before giving birth.
“I feel like it’s a recent phrase that has been used against the Latinx community. For many many years, we’ve had families that have come here, they have petitioned for their family members to also become citizens That’s a very standard practice by people who are citizens or are petitioning for citizenship,” Saenz said.
“To hear these terms being thrown around is offensive on many levels, but it’s also just not correct. It’s very inaccurate to what we see with these families.”
El Pueblo staff are working overtime this week to rally enthusiasm among Hispanic voters and increase turnout to the polls.
Saenz said this latest development is now part of the push to motivate voters.