The Heritage Foundation, the massive marketing machine for right-wing ideology and policy ideas, is waging a campaign against birthright citizenship—the constitutional principle that grants U.S. citizenship to every person born in the United States. Either that, or they’re cynically using the issue of what they derisively call “anchor babies” to raise money from right-wing activists who are hostile to immigrants.
Heritage is at the center of many destructive right-wing campaigns. It’s a prime mover behind the Trump administration’s sham voting commission, for example. And it has resisted calls from some conservative evangelicals for comprehensive immigration reform by promoting Religious Right activists who cloak an anti-immigration agenda in the language of “biblical immigration.”
A new letter from Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner comes in an envelope that asks, “Should the children of illegal immigrants have an automatic right to U.S. citizenship?” Heritage provides Yes and No stickers that people can use to “vote” on the question—but they aren’t really interested in your answer, because their position is clear.
The Heritage letter calls birthright citizenship “just another form of amnesty that has been going on under the radar since 1898.” Birthright citizenship, claims Feulner, “is based on a mistaken interpretation of the Constitution”—specifically the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that was passed after the Civil War.
Feulner says the “legal experts” at the Heritage Foundation have concluded, in spite of more than a century of Supreme Court precedent, that they don’t need a constitutional amendment to do away with birthright citizenship. Even more implausibly, they don’t even think legislation is needed:
These experienced constitutional scholars have concluded that Congress can eliminate birthright citizenship simply by passing a resolution. And Congress can do this no matter what other immigration measures they pass.
Most legal scholars agree this is a bogus reading of the Constitution, history, and law. But as a candidate, Donald Trump embraced the position being promoted by some right-wing legal advocates and anti-immigration groups.
In the new letter, Heritage seeks donations by trying to inflame resentment against the children of undocumented immigrants:
Birthright citizenship has these consequences: More illegal immigrants drawn to the United States to have their babies. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in welfare, health, and education benefits to these children as they grow up. Millions more immigrants as the birthright babies grow up as citizens and sponsor their relatives.
Is this what you want? Or would you rather have you and your fellow Americans decide who gets to be a citizen?
In reality, immigrants are vital to the U.S. economy. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that getting rid of undocumented immigrants would cost the American economy $5 trillion over the next decade.
The Heritage letter says that its campaign to eliminate birthright citizenship is “fighting for you and for America’s future.” And it ends with a warning: “We don’t have a moment to lose.”