by Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo

Assistant Professor of Sociology

According to an August 2010 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, eight percent of newborns in the United States have parents who are undocumented immigrants. Most of these babies are of Latino origin, the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the nation, and a movement is afoot to strip these babies of American citizenship, a move that will prove disastrous for the nation’s future economic prosperity.

GOP leaders in both the House and the Senate have supported modifying the 14th Amendment, which automatically grants citizenship rights to persons born in the United States. But if legislators are truly concerned about the future of America, they need to understand that America is becoming racially and ethnically diverse and will soon be a minority-majority country.

“Nothing could help promote the educational attainment of America’s newest citizens more than providing their parents the opportunity to become citizen themselves.”

According to the census, non-Hispanic whites comprise 65 percent of the population, but their proportion will decline to less than 50 percent by 2050. Latinos now make up 16 percent of the populace; their share will double to 30 percent before 2050.

Pew Hispanic Center research indicates that Latino population growth is not fueled by illegal immigration from Mexico but by the growth of second and third generation Americans, some of whom will have descended from undocumented immigrants.

Isn’t it in our best interest to adopt policies that integrate, rather than economically paralyze, those who will disproportionately comprise America’s future population?

Consider that U.S.-born Latinos will make up a quarter of labor-force growth in the next two decades. Their education will prove crucial to the future economic success of the nation, especially as baby boomers, the most educated generation in history, retire in droves from highly skilled jobs. We need educated workers to fill these jobs, and Latinos are the future.

More needs to be done to ensure that the children of unauthorized migrants are able to take advantage of educational opportunities. President Obama should keep his campaign promise of enacting immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized migrants in the country. Nothing could help promote the educational attainment of America’s newest citizens more than providing their parents the opportunity to become citizens themselves.

Legal status lets immigrant parents obtain less exploitative and better paying jobs. Legal migrants’ incomes rise by a third in only a decade whereas the incomes of undocumented immigrants largely remain stagnant. Income gains and other advantages associated with legalization, such as higher rates of home ownership, trickle down to children.

Research from UC Irvine demonstrates that the adult children of immigrant fathers who naturalized under Reagan’s 1986 amnesty are 70 percent more likely to graduate college—attributes which make them more prepared to fill jobs at the upper echelons of the labor market. Indeed, my own research on the growing Latino middle class population shows that legalized parents are able to invest more financial and social resources in their children’s education.

If we want to secure the future of this country, revising the 14th Amendment to invalidate the citizenship of children born to undocumented parents is not the answer. Understanding that minorities are the future of this nation is.

This article has been sponsored by:
Communicating Across Cultures

Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo

Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo is assistant professor of sociology at USC. She studies immigration, race/ethnicity, the Latino middle class and Latino entrepreneurs. Her book manuscript, Brown Picket Fences, examines the Mexican-American middle class in California. She can be reached at [email protected].