Debunking the 14th Amendment Myth

By: Daniel Nardini

In the art of debate, if you cannot win on the evidence, then change how the evidence is interpreted. Indeed, this is what is happening with regards to the debate on the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment is very clear in stating that anyone born on U.S. soil, with certain exceptions (diplomats, visitors, etc.), is a U.S. citizen. Not just many Republicans but also many right-wing pundits are saying that the 14th Amendment was meant to be for the freed African slaves and not dealing with immigrants or the undocumented.

This modern interpretation is in fact completely wrong. The 14th Amendment was indeed to help enfranchise African Americans that is true, but it goes beyond that. The 14th Amendment uses the word “persons” and not “Negroes” as would have been used for the time. Believe it or not, there was debate about immigration at the time. The debate centered in fact on immigrants from Ireland, China, and on the Roma (also called Gypsies) coming to the United States. Back then many of them did not have documentation.

But the congressional officials at the time realized that if they set boundaries on a U.S. citizen being a particular ethnic or racial and religious group then it would come back to haunt them and create a legal problem as was the case with African Americans. So they made the wording clear when they said “persons.” When the 14th Amendment was so adopted in 1868, the U.S. Congress at the time wanted to resolve this problem by making it clear that it would be for all immigrant groups and all people born and raised in the United States.

They did not want another conflict like the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) to reoccur, and they did not want to create categories of who was worthy of U.S. citizenship and who was not. It is a sad point that this type of debate—which the lawmakers of long ago had hoped to resolve—is again happening today.

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