Birthright Citizenship Myths and the $2 Billion Emergency Medicaid Controversy

Birthright citizenship - emergency medicaidKaiser Health News issued a report claiming that the Emergency Medicaid program mostly helps unauthorized immigrants, which has ‘poured gasoline on the fire’ in the long standing debate over birthright citizenship. Nothing riles up the Nativist lobby more than the notion of birthright citizenship for children born of unauthorized immigrant parents. The constant Nativist narrative is that immigrant women come to the U.S. to have Citizen babies, often crossing the border in an advanced state of pregnancy, then after the baby is delivered, parents and child receive a lifetime of ‘free stuff’, the parents are protected from deportation, while their citizen children vote Democrat to keep the ‘free stuff’ coming.

Does Emergency Medicaid Mostly Benefit Unauthorized Immigrants?

From Kaiser Health News:

But while federal law generally bars illegal immigrants from being covered by Medicaid, a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly comprise illegal immigrants. Most of it goes to reimburse hospitals for delivering babies for women who show up in their emergency rooms, according to interviews with hospital officials and studies.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association study referenced by Kaiser, childbirth accounted for 82% of spending and 91% of hospitalizations in the Emergency Medicaid program. But wait a second… isn’t childbirth about delivering healthy babies, and aren’t those babies U.S. citizens? In truth, after properly allocating delivery costs to the newborn citizen children – not the unauthorized immigrant mother – this is not a $2 billion benefit for mostly unauthorized immigrants, but a $360 million benefit. With a U.S. population of 315 million, the annual cost out to a mere $1.14 per American, and the children born of unauthorized immigrants are net contributors.

Are Children of Unauthorized Immigrants a Burden on Taxpayers?

One of Nativist favorite myths is that the U.S. born children of unauthorized immigrants become a permanent underclass, becoming a part of the ‘welfare state’ and reliable votes for Democrats in exchange for ‘free stuff.’ The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform has published a report, “the fiscal burden of illegal immigration on United States Taxpayers”, which claims illegal immigration costs taxpayers $113 Billion per year.

However, the FAIR study is deeply flawed, for example allocating costs and benefits from U.S. Citizen children as a cost of illegal immigration, and not counting taxes paid by unauthorized immigrants. Alex  Nowrasteh of the Competitive Enterprise Institute analyzed FAIR’s report and concluded “FAIR’s report vastly overstates the costs of illegal immigration and totally ignores the benefits.” Some examples of these deep flaws:

  • FAIR claims the cost of educating children of unauthorized immigrants is $40.883 Billion. Pew Research in 2012 estimated 4.5 million were U.S. born and therefore citizens, while 1.0 million were also unauthorized. $33.450 Billion of the $40.883 billion in education costs is for educating U.S. Citizens, but FAIR counts this as a cost of illegal immigration.
  • According to CEI, FAIR does not count the increased earning power of high school graduates and additional taxes they will pay over their lifetimes.
  • A 1996 study published by the National Research Council estimated that immigrants and their descendants would contribute about $80,000 more in taxes (in 1996 dollars) than they would receive in public services.
  • From CEI: “FAIR states that “most illegal aliens do not pay income taxes,” without citing any study to support that assertion. FAIR ignores numerous government studies that show that most unauthorized immigrants pay taxes.”

Do Immigrant Women Really Immigrate Illegally Just to Have Citizen Babies?

A frequent Nativist narrative claims immigrant women come to the U.S. to have citizen babies, then claim a lifetime of ‘free stuff’ and protection from deportation. This myth is almost totally lacking in facts. A few relevant facts from Pew Research:

  • “These newborns represented 8% of all births during this period. Unauthorized immigrants represent about 4% of the U.S. population but are relatively young and have high birthrates, which is why their newborns make up a higher share of all births.” (Nativists would have us believe more babies to get more ‘free stuff’, but younger adults have more babies!).
  • “According to the analysis, 9% of these unauthorized immigrants who had babies in 2009-2010 had arrived in the U.S. in 2008 or later. An additional 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and the remaining 61% arrived in the United States before 2004.”Obviously, most children born of unauthorized immigrants are born many years after arrival, and a more likely explanation is that like young adults everywhere, unauthorized immigrants fall in love and have children!
  • According to CATO, demographers who have interviewed thousands of immigrants have never encountered one who immigrated to have a child in the U.S., and overwhelmingly their reasons are related to work or family unity.
  • Nativists would like us to believe women cross our borders in advanced pregnancy, but Customs and Border Patrol say they rarely encounter pregnant women crossing our borders, though they do encounter hundreds of bodies of young adults each year. Does anyone really believe a woman who is eight months pregnant would walk through the desert for several days?

Does Having a Citizen Child Gain Citizenship or Protect the Parents from Deportation?

Absolutely NOT! Parents of citizen children are deported all the time. In just two years, ICE deported 200,000 parents of U.S. Citizen children. More than 5,000 children ended up in foster care each year when both parents are deported, a costly proposition for taxpayers and a traumatic experience for children whose families are literally ripped apart.

Moreover, while U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents for immigrant visas, but not until they have reached age 21. Also, if the parents were unlawfully present for more than one year, they are barred from the U.S. for ten years, under a 1996 law signed by Bill Clinton that was supposed to end illegal immigration (illegal immigration actually got worse afterwords).

For an unauthorized immigrant parent to gain legal status from having a citizen child, they would have to wait until the child turned 21, leave the U.S. for ten years, then go through the process of obtaining an immigrant visa (green card). Add five years for naturalization, and the total time to become a citizen totals at least 36 years plus years of processing time.

Has the Fourteenth Amendment Been Misinterpreted?

Nativists are fond of claiming the Fourteenth amendment has been misinterpreted and children born of unauthorized immigrants aren’t really citizens. Upon independence, each state passed reception statutes embracing English common law except where it conflicted with their constitution.

At the time the U.S. constitution was adopted, citizenship was still determined by Common Law. Everyone born in U.S. territory, except diplomats, Indians, and children born of slaves, who were considered slaves rather than subjects.

Opponents of birthright citizenship claim the framers of our constitution and authors of the 14th amendment meant something entirely different than what our courts have consistently ruled for over 100 years. The plain language of the 14th amendment is crystal clear, which explains why no court has sided with birthright citizenship opponents. Section 1 of the 14th amendment 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.

Basically, the fourteenth amendment codified and continued the prevailing practice of birthright citizenship, ensuring former slaves were full citizens lest Southern states deny their rights. The Fourteenth amendment also overturned Dredd Scott.

Nativists deliberately confuse “allegiance” with “jurisdiction”, claiming that children born of unauthorized immigrants owe allegiance to their parents’ home nation, not to the U.S., and therefore are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Black’s law dictionary defines jurisdiction as:

The power and authority constitutionally conferred upon (or constitutionally recognized as existing in) a court or judge to pronounce the sentence of the law, or to award the remedies provided by law, upon a state of facts, proved or admitted, referred to the tribunal for decision, and authorized by law to be the subject of investigation or action by that tribunal, and in favor of or against persons (or a res) who present themselves, or who are brought, before the court in some manner sanctioned by law as proper and sufficient.

In layman’s terms, if a court or government can hold you accountable under laws, then you are subject to its jurisdiction. Applying common sense, virtually everyone present in the U.S., regardless of any allegiance to any foreign government, is subject to U.S. jurisdiction. If a non-citizen throws a gum wrapper on the sidewalk in violation of anti-littering laws, they can be given a ticket or arrested. That’s jurisdiction! If children born of non-citizens were not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” then they would be immune to U.S. courts, could not be sued, fined, deported, etc. The legal status of their parents is irrelevant.

The only exception to birthright citizenship are children born on U.S. soil to foreign leaders, diplomats and their families, who have diplomatic immunity under treaty and international law, and cannot be arrested or sued in U.S. courts, which have no jurisdiction.

Another frequent argument against birthright citizenship is that the 14th amendment was merely intended to ensure that newly freed slaves would be considered citizens and not to grant citizenship to children born of unauthorized immigrants. Its true the purpose of the 14th amendment was to address citizenship of slaves. Under English Common Law at the time the U.S. became a nation, children born of slaves were not considered subjects or citizens, and the 14th amendment was needed to reverse the infamous Dredd Scott decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that blacks could never become citizens.

However, transcripts of the Congressional debate showed that the status of children born of immigrants was vigorously debated. Some members of Congress wanted to exclude children born of Chinese immigrants, but when the vote was taken the 14th amendment passed. There is no grand historic misunderstanding! Congress did not intend to exclude the children born of immigrants from birthright citizenship. and a plain reading of the 14th amendment is crystal clear.

Prior to the 14th amendment, English Common law provided for birthright citizenship except for slaves. Upon independence, states passed reception statutes to implement and continue English common law except where it conflicted with state constitutions. So just what did English Common law say about birthright citizenship when the constitution was adopted? The most authoritative text An Analysis of the Laws of England by William Blackstone, first published in 1765, and reprinted in 1770, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1778 and 1783. Blackstone defined “natural born subjects” as those born within the dominions of England.  From William Blackstone (1765), Commentaries 1:354, 357–58, 361–62

The first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England, that is, within the ligeance, or as it is generally called, the allegiance of the king; and aliens, such as are born out of it. Allegiance is the tie, or ligamen, which binds the subject to the king, in return for that protection which the king affords the subject. The thing itself, or substantial part of it, is founded in reason and the nature of government; the name and the form are derived to us from our Gothic ancestors.

Allegiance, both express and implied, is however distinguished by the law into two sorts or species, the one natural, the other local; the former being also perpetual, the latter temporary. Natural allegiance is such as is due from all men born within the king’s dominions immediately upon their birth…

The children of aliens, born here in England, are, generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such.

American Common Law and Birthright Citizenship

Nativists and particularly birthers are fond of claiming that English common law didn’t apply prior to the passage of the 14th amendment, which is complete nonsense. Every state has embraced common law either in their constitution or by promptly passing a reception statute. Not one of the original 13 states redefined birthright citizenship during the Confederation of States period which followed independence, when immigration was a state power. You can find examples of reception statutes here.

Why are Nativists So Obsessed with Birthright Citizenship?

Prominent Linda Chavez has been writing for years about a network of organizations founded by eugenics, anti-immigrant, and population reduction activist John Tanton, which includes FAIR, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies. Linda Chavez recently wrote in

The organizers of these groups and some of their current backers are pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide, and have spoken approvingly of China’s one child policy (even though some of them think it is too liberal). In their view, there are simply too many people in the U.S. (and the world) and they’d like fewer of them — a lot fewer. They hit on restricting immigration as the first line of attack in their war on population, but there is no indication they want to stop there.

The leadership of these groups are hard core radicals about population control and so naturally they are obsessed about high fertility rates among immigrant women, particularly Hispanic women, and birthright citizenship. I’ve also written recently about the ties between these groups and the eugenics movement and it’s dark past, including ties with Hitler’s Third Reich.


Bob Quasius is president and founder of Cafe Con Leche Republicans

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