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Ending Birthright Citizenship Could Increase Undocumented Population

There have been plenty of arguments against this summer’s calls to end birthright citizenship: They were called racist, bad politics and political posturing. But ending birthright citizenship is also bad policy for those who want to decrease the population of illegal immigrants — because it has the exact opposite effect. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute reported today that even the most conservative changes to birthright citizen could cause the proportion of children without documents to double, from 2% of all children living in the U.S. to 4%.

The report looked at the likely growth of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. between now and 2050, not taking into account changes in the flow of immigrants based on enforcement or the economy. Under the current system, all children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents are citizens, meaning illegal status is not passed down the line to future generations. The illegal immigrant population is younger, on average, than the population overall, and had about 340,000 babies in the U.S. in 2008 — about 8 percent of the total number of children born in the U.S. that year.

If those children were undocumented, they would pass down illegal status to their children. The report projects that by 2050, about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants would have been born in the U.S., 1 million of them to U.S.-born parents.

“Even if we saw repeal under the most conservative of scenarios, which would only deny legal status if both parents are undocumented, it would expand the size of the undocumented population, and it would expand it substantially,” Michael Fix of Migration Policy Institute said on a conference call. “We would see the perpetuation of disadvantage.”

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(click to enlarge)

The report takes a look at several policy options for citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. The current law grants citizenship to all U.S.-born children, regardless of their status, under the 14th Amendment. If citizenship was minimized to only those with at least one citizen or legal resident parent, as Rep. Nathan Deal’s (R-Ga.) Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009 suggests, it would significantly increase the number of undocumented children in the U.S. But that is not the most extreme option: As shown in the graph above, the number of projected illegal immigrant children jumps if citizenship is restricted to those born to legal mothers or to two legal parents.

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