State Lawmakers’ Plan Would Discriminate Against Citizens Based on Parents’ Status
January 6, 2011
International law, as well as US law, requires governments to guarantee equal treatment under the law. This invidious proposal seeks to thwart that cherished right.
Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - State legislatures in the United States should reject a proposal to mark birth certificates of US citizens on the basis of their parents' immigration status, which would violate the internationally protected right to equal protection, Human Rights Watch said today.

The proposal made on January 5, 2011, by the group State Legislators for Legal Immigration, calls for states to enact laws to make a distinction among children who are US citizens when issuing birth certificates. With approval from the US Congress, states would be able to mark the birth certificates of children born in the US to parents who are not citizens or not entitled to live permanently in the United States differently than the birth certificates of other children who are US citizens.

"International law, as well as US law, requires governments to guarantee equal treatment under the law," said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. "This invidious proposal seeks to thwart that cherished right."

Under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, every person born in the United States is entitled to US citizenship. The proposal made on January 5 does not attempt to alter the citizenship status of children born in the US of non-citizen parents. It instead proposes legislation that would allow state governments to differentiate these US citizens from other US citizens through markings on state-issued birth certificates.

Although the proposed model statute claims not to confer any particular benefit or penalty on the basis of the different markings, differentiating citizens on the basis of their parents' immigration status would inevitably result in discriminatory treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

"The 14th Amendment not only addressed the evils of slavery but a range of discrimination against minorities in the US," Parker said. "Any proposal that would diminish equal protection under the law would be a major step backward."

Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by the United States in 1992, states that, "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law." The Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors implementation of the ICCPR, has stated that discrimination includes "any distinction" on the basis of national origin or birth that has the purpose of undermining rights, in this case, the right to citizenship.

"Equal protection under law is a cornerstone of US and international law," Parker said. "States should reject this proposal as abhorrent to US values."