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Why Ending Birthright Citizenship Would Be Terrible For Silicon Valley

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AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Birthright citizenship foes target their criticism of the practice -- widely believed to be enshrined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution -- towards so-called "anchor babies," the derogatory term used for the children of undocumented immigrants. However, ending birthright citizenship would have broader implications for people of varying legal status in all areas of society, who can now take for granted that their children, if born here, will be considered U.S. citizens.

"Getting rid of birthright citizenship would be chaotic in the United States. ... It would create a whole new class of permanently undocumented or secondary citizens," said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council. "This would result in dramatic change for everybody: high-skill immigrants, low-skilled immigrants, families, business."

Many immigrants who come in to the United States to work in tech and other white collar industries do so on H-1B visas -- this year 233,000 foreign workers applied for just 85,000 spots -- or one of the few other types of working visas. Silicon Valley advocates say the current system is not meeting the industry’s high demand for talent.

Immigrants on these visas, particularly those from India, face up to a decade wait for permanent status due to a green card backlog, according to Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

“That tech engineer who is an immigrant who goes on to have children here but realizes their children are stateless, they’re going to take their expertise and return [to their home country], therefore taking a prime contributor to our economy away from us,” Noorani told TPM. “So the net effect here is driving the best and the brightest away from us as a country.”

High-skilled immigrants already face a number of obstacles when coming to the U.S. to work, immigration experts say, without having to worry about the legal status of their children born after they arrive.

“That would be a factor for people. Already, you pay a big price -- you being, an Indian software programmer -- you pay a big price for how long it takes to get a green card because our system is so backlogged,” Edward Alden, an expert in U.S. economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations, told TPM. “On top of that, you have a kid, and that kid is not going to be an American ... It's potentially just one more strike against the United States for being an attractive place for highly skilled immigrants.”

Alden said it’s not just a matter of the practical effects high-skilled immigrants could see on their families, but also the symbolic implications of ending birthright citizenship.

“What I worry about is, that in the effort to solve a diminishing problem ... we send a lot of messages to the world to migrants that ‘We don’t want you,’” Alden said. “That’s a bad reputation to have if you want to keep attracting to the best and brightest.”

Republicans have been vague in how exactly citizenship in the United States would work with without the guarantee that any person born on U.S. soil will be considered a U.S. citizen. Donald Trump, the ringleader for the effort to end birthright citizenship, has said that he would deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants and let the “good ones” come back under an expedited legal process, for instance.

“The candidates in favor of eliminating birthright citizenship think that they’re going after one segment of the American population,” Noorani said. “But, in reality, eliminating birthright citizenship impacts the entire immigrant population, whether you’re a skilled engineer or a skilled farmworker.”

The tech community -- which otherwise aligns with traditionally conservative values like less regulation and lower taxes -- has came out in full force in favor of immigration reform. FWD.us was founded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates to push for an overhaul of the U.S.'s immigration system.

To them, the push to repeal the 14th Amendment over largely unfounded concerns that birthright citizenship is a magnet for undocumented immigrants is the the latest sign of how far to the extremes the conversation has drifted since immigration reform legislation passed in the Senate but died in the House in 2013.

“Why would we tell an engineer at a startup or a doctor or a small business owner, ‘You're contributing, you're paying taxes, you're building a better life for your family but your child should forever be denied citizenship?’ It just flies in the face of everything we cherish about opportunity and American values," Schulte said.

About The Author

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Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.