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GOP Senator Attacks Birthright Citizenship During Human Trafficking Bill Abortion Fight

Emily Crockett

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is pushing a radical amendment to a human trafficking bill that would end the practice of granting automatic citizenship to all children born in the United States.

Senate business slowed to a crawl this week when Republicans inserted anti-choice language into a popular human trafficking bill that Democrats are now blocking until the language is removed.

But abortion isn’t the only human rights issue Republicans are fighting a proxy war over, using the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act debate. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is pushing a radical amendment to the bill that would end the practice of granting automatic citizenship to all children born in the United States.

Vitter’s amendment would only grant citizenship to a child born in the United States if one of the child’s parents is already a citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a member of the military.

It’s an anti-immigration measure that Vitter claimed was relevant to the trafficking debate because of “birth tourism.” Some women, mostly Chinese, have allegedly paid thousands of dollars to give birth in “maternity motels” in California so that their children will have U.S. citizenship.

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Because these women could theoretically be vulnerable to abuse or trafficking due to the “magnet” of birthright citizenship, Vitter reasoned on the Senate floor Tuesday, the answer to that problem is to ban birthright citizenship entirely.

Vitter said birthright citizenship involves “a fundamental misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment.”

Birthright citizenship was written into the 14th Amendment after the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision found that no African Americans, slave or free, could be U.S. citizens.

An 1898 decision involving a child of unnaturalized Chinese immigrants found that the 14th Amendment applied to children born in the United States regardless of their parents’ legal status.

That reveals some irony in Vitter’s decision to invoke Chinese immigrants in trying to overturn more than a century of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

“Senator Vitter’s fear-mongering about birth tourism is just that—a way to support an anti-immigrant agenda,” Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said in a statement. “The claim that immigrant women are giving birth in the U.S. to receive the benefits of citizenship is insulting and inaccurate.”

Yeung added that children cannot sponsor their parents for citizenship until age 21.

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, called Vitter’s actions “despicable political grandstanding.”

“Senator Vitter has a long history of perpetuating harmful stereotypes about immigrant women and children to further his anti-immigrant agenda and today was no different,” González-Rojas said in a statement.

Indeed, Vitter’s bill isn’t new. He sponsored the same legislation as a stand-alone bill in 2013.

The idea also isn’t new for anti-immigration legislators, who have tried the same tactic and rhetoric without success.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called Vitter’s amendment “stupid” on Wednesday.

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