The Nov. 12 editorial "Citizens, All" ignored a recent report by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. "U.S. Citizenship of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents" spelled out arguments by which Congress -- without the need of a constitutional amendment -- has the power to define the 14th Amendment's "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" for the purpose of regulating immigration.
The Supreme Court decision to which the editorial referred -- U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark -- did not make a distinction between lawfully and unlawfully present alien parents, nor did it distinguish between legal residents and nonimmigrant aliens because those points were not at issue; the parents in the case were legal resident aliens.
The report also said, "The United States Supreme Court has held that Congress has some power to . . . legislate contrary to judicial decisions by going beyond judicial decisions."
As the Supreme Court noted in Elk v. Wilkins (1884), Native Americans are not 14th Amendment citizens but citizens by virtue of treaties with their tribe. Persons born abroad to U.S. citizens and persons born in Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands also are citizens. (See Rogers v. Bellei, 1971.) Such statutes and treaties could be changed.
Thus, your categorical headline lacks the nuance that exists in our legislative and judicial histories.
I was pleased to read Michael Kinsley's Nov. 18 op-ed noting that Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick and that Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. As conditions in the country change, so should the interpretation of our laws.
It is time to reconsider bestowing automatic citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants. The United States is one of the few countries in the world today that bestows birthright citizenship on the children of noncitizens. In the late 1990s, Ireland -- one of the last holdouts -- voted by 79 percent to abolish this right. The intent of the 14th Amendment was clearly to give citizenship to the newly freed slaves and their descendants, not to provide a means to evade immigration laws.
The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that about 380,000 children were born to illegal immigrants in 2002, accounting for roughly 10 percent of all births in the United States that year. Clearly, times have changed from when the Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898. For one thing, the U.S. population was about 75 million then -- about a quarter of today's population.