POLITICS

Without Birthright Citizenship, We'd Be Missing These Great Americans

We need you, Alberto Gonzales.

The 14th Amendment guarantees that people born in the United States are automatically granted the right to be citizens of this country, regardless of whether their parents are also citizens. 

But in recent days, many Republican presidential candidates have said it's time to revisit that privilege, which has been around since the country's founding. In fact, the only time the country took away birthright citizenship for a group of people was during the days of slavery, when the Supreme Court ruled that African-Americans, either free or slave, could never become citizens.

Republican disdain for the 14th Amendment has been fueled by a belief that undocumented immigrants are coming to the United States in order to take advantage of the birthright citizenship provision. Reality television star and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, for example, said birthright citizenship "remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration."

But taking away this right would have effects far beyond what its critics may realize, as Walter Dellinger, who served as a top legal official in former President Bill Clinton's administration, told The Huffington Post this week.

"Today, it serves a very important function, that no one can go back to previous generations and find out that your claim to be a citizen is faulty because your grandparent or great-grandparents was not lawfully in the country," Dellinger said. "That's the critical importance of wiping the slate clean."

"If it weren't for birthright citizenship, people could go back and say, 'We found out your great-grandparent arrived at Ellis Island under a different name, and therefore none of her descendants are citizens either,'" Dellinger added. "Birthright citizenship eliminates all of those questions."

Here are some Americans who might not be Americans without birthright citizenship: 

Martial Artist Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a legendary martial artist and film star who became an icon of American film. Lee was born in San Francisco in 1940 to his parents, Lee Hoi Chuen and Grace Ho, who happened to be traveling with the Chinese opera company in the United States. As the Bruce Lee Foundation notes, "At the time Bruce was born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were on tour with the opera company in the United States. Thus, it was fortuitous for Bruce's future that his birth took place in America, as he would return 18 years later to claim his birthright of American citizenship." 

Actress Diane Guerrero

Actress Diane Guerrero, best known for playing Maritza Ramos on "Orange Is the New Black" and Lina on "Jane the Virgin," is the New Jersey-born daughter of undocumented immigrants who were deported when she was 14. Her parents came from Colombia and struggled to gain legal status in the United States. Guerrero described the insecurity her family had living in the shadows in a November op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: "Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn't see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Alberto Gonzales, who served as President George W. Bush's attorney general, has said he is not sure whether his grandparents, three of whom came from Mexico, arrived in the United States legally. "I've looked at this issue, I've talked to my parents about it and it's just not clear," Gonzales said during a 2006 interview, adding, "[F]or me, my life has -- represents the American dream."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was born in Florida in 1971. But as National Journal noted, his parents, who were Cuban immigrants, did not become U.S. citizens until 1975. Rubio, unlike some of the other GOP presidential candidates, does not want to repeal the 14th Amendment. But he has said he is "open to exploring ways of not allowing people who are coming here deliberately for that purpose [having children] to acquire citizenship."

Olympian Henry Cejudo

In 2008, Colorado-born wrestler Henry Cejudo, the son of undocumented immigrants, won a gold medal for his home country in the Olympics. Cejudo's older brother, Angel, said their family was just as American as everyone else's despite their parents' status. "Put yourself in my parents' shoes, or the shoes of anybody who has crossed over from Mexico," said Angel. "Would you stay poor with no chance to improve yourself, or find a way to go to the best country in the world any way you could? I guess that unless you're a Native American, somebody could say you don't really belong in the United States, because almost everybody is from somewhere else. But it causes arguments, because almost everybody is a little bit racist."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was born in Baton Rouge in 1971, just six months after his parents came to the United States so his mother could pursue her graduate degree. In 2010, Jindal's spokesman said the governor's mother was a legal permanent resident at the time. On Monday, Jindal said it was time to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. 

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)

In 2006, while a Republican senator from New Mexico, Pete Domenici surprised many of his colleagues with a floor speech revealing that his mother came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant from Italy. She received some incorrect legal advice that she would automatically become a citizen as soon as she married Domenici's father. In 1943, during World War II -- when Domenici was nine or 10 years old -- federal agents looking for Italian sympathizers came and took away his mother because she was undocumented. Over the next six months, she completed the paperwork to become a citizen. Domenici would still have been a citizen because his father was American, but his story put a different face on a group of people his colleagues often demonized. 

Is there anyone we missed? Drop us a note and let us know.

This piece has been updated with Bruce Lee. Thanks to HuffPost reader Maadili for the tip. 


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