A recent Harris Poll sheds light on a new twist in the old debate—the question of “maternity tourism”, or birthing trips where pregnant foreigners travel to the U.S. to give birth, making any child born an automatic U.S. citizen.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,184 adults surveyed online between May 9 and 16, 2011 by Harris Interactive.
The Constitution is a sacred American document. Many political groups call on it’s words to support their policies and stances and other nations have copied it when establishing their own tenets. Thus, it seems predictable when asked if the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship to any person born in the United States is a good or bad law, two thirds of American adults (66%) say it’s a good law with 40% saying it’s very good and only a quarter (27%) call it a bad law. This approval is seen across all political groups and philosophies, although to varying degrees—Conservatives are least likely to call this a good law, as a small majority do (53%) while Liberals are most likely to call it a good law, with 84% saying so and fully 60% saying it is a very good law.
Despite this support for the Constitution, when the question is framed slightly differently and maternity tourism is explained, a different response is seen. When Americans were told that some pregnant foreigners arrange trips to the United States specifically timed so that they give birth during their stay, making any child born an automatic U.S. citizen, two thirds of U.S. adults say the Constitution should be changed to no longer allow for this (67%) with over two in five saying it definitely should be changed (45%). This perspective is shared across all political parties and philosophies:
- Four in five Republicans (79%) say the Constitution should be changed to no longer allow for this, as do seven in ten Independents (70%) and 54% of Democrats;
- Tea Party supporters feel most strongly about this as 81% say the Constitution should be changed here; and,
- Majorities of Conservatives (75%), Moderates (67%) and Liberals (52%) agree as well.
Following this re-look at the rights provided by the Fourteenth Amendment, when Americans were asked if they agree or disagree that it is appropriate that any baby born on U.S. soil is an automatic citizen of the United States only 36% say they agree it’s appropriate while 58% disagree with 35% strongly disagreeing.
Similar to the bi-partisan agreement seen with regard to changing the Constitution in this case, members of all political parties and philosophies also agree on several stipulations for automatic citizenship:
- Republicans (84%), Democrats (63%), Independents (74%), Conservatives (84%), Moderates (72%), Liberals (53%), and Tea Party Supporters (85%) all agree that babies born in the U.S. should need an American citizen as their parent in order to become an automatic U.S. citizen;
- Similar numbers of each of these groups (between 65% and 79% of all political groups, between 60% and 77% of all political philosophies and 80% of Tea Party supporters) also agree that babies born on American soil should need a parent who is a permanent resident of the U.S. in order to become an automatic citizen; and,
- While the agreement is less strong across all groups, 53% of U.S. adults also say that in order to limit these birthing trips the U.S. should screen for pregnancy before allowing foreigners into the country—two thirds of Republicans (64%), Conservatives (66%) and Tea Party Supporters (66%) say this and just about half of Democrats (48%), Independents (50%) and Moderates (52%) do yet in this case only 36% of Liberals agree.
This poll raises some interesting questions, yet the responses showing bi-partisan agreement across several issues and opinion statements is even more interesting. Although immigration has been a politically divisive topic, the issue of maternity tourism is slightly different – it is claimed that many foreigners participating in maternity tourism have no intention of permanently settling in the United States. Rather, they enter the U.S., obtain citizenship for their newborn baby, and then return (with the child) to their home country. While it’s unclear how widespread this practice is, this poll makes clear that Americans see it as an abuse of our system, which they would like to prevent. It will be interesting if legislators pursue this at all, or even if it can be determined how common the practice may be.