A Nov. 12 editorial, condemning Rep. Tom Tancredo's proposal to deny automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents, glosses over an important issue and ignores the history of the 14th Amendment.

In 1866, after the Civil War, Republicans were concerned that if only whites could vote in the South, only Democrats would be elected. But giving blacks the vote required that the Dred Scott decision, which held that blacks could not be citizens, be overturned. Section One of the 14th Amendment was designed to achieve that end. There is no evidence from the Senate debate at the time, or from subsequent Supreme Court decisions, that the intention was to bestow automatic citizenship on any person (diplomats excepted) born on U.S. soil.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 children are born in the United States every year to illegal immigrants, with all the benefits that citizenship entails. The illegal immigrant parents then use their U.S. citizen children as leverage to remain in the United States. And this figure may vastly underestimate the reality of such births, given the millions of illegal immigrants who enter the country each year as bona fide visitors.

Citizenship is a privilege that should not be granted lightly. Immigrants who enter the country legally work hard and wait a long time to become citizens. Even pro-immigration groups admit that our porous borders are out of control. Perhaps it is time to adapt our interpretation of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment to current realities.

One way to do this would be for Congress to pass legislation requiring that to acquire citizenship at birth based on the 14th Amendment, one parent must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien. Such a provision would be consistent with the history of the amendment and would end an anachronism that America can no longer afford.

-- Allan Wendt

Washington