Birthright Citizenship & Illegals: A Grace Response

Every baby born in this country, regardless of whether that baby’s parents are legally or illegally in the U.S., was born here because that’s exactly where God determined that little one would be born.  At least that’s what I believe the Bible teaches.  In Acts 17:26-27, the Apostle Paul spoke these words to the citizens of Athens:

And He (God) has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. (NKJV)

Some view this Scripture from a macro level — that God does indeed determine the preappointed times and boundaries of entire people groups, but not individuals.  However, if God could exert His sovereign power on a large-scale, then certainly the Creator of the Universe, who with a Word spoke everything into existence, could work at the micro level as well, determining where each individual would be born.  I do not believe that I was born in this country by accident or coincidence.  In fact, each and every person born in the United States of America, the most blessed nation in the world, is here because God desires them to be here. 

In light of Wednesday’s ruling, enjoining major portions of Arizona’s Immigration Law from going into effect, there are some within the halls of government that do not desire certain American citizens to remain in the land of their birth:  Children of Illegal Immigrants Born on American Soil.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) believes it may be time to end “birthright citizenship,” the legal principle which confers automatic citizenship on “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”  In the U.S. House of Representatives, there are currently 92 co-sponsors of a bill that would grant “birthright citizenship” only “if one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen or national, or a legal immigrant.”

There’s just one small problem with this approach.  The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution!   Adopted on July 9, 1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Section One of this Amendment clearly states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

That means that anyone who is born on American soil is a citizen of the United States.  And regardless of one’s opinion on comprehensive immigration reform, the children of illegal immigrants are likewise citizens of this great country.  The only way to change this fact is to amend the Fourteenth Amendment.   And to attempt this strategy, no matter how pure and non-discriminatory someone’s motives might be, will appear to a large portion of the voting public to be both petty and discriminatory.  Appearances matter and they often become more persuasive than reality, whether we like it or not.  Conservatives would be wise to reject any talk of tinkering with the Fourteenth Amendment’s “birthright citizenship” principle.

In my previous post, Are You An American Citizen?, I argued that our borders must be secured first before we move to a discussion of a “pathway to citizenship” for those who are illegally in this country.  Regardless of what happens in the legal and political arenas of the immigration debate, the Church — follower’s of Christ — must respond with grace to those who live in our communities and neighborhoods.  And that includes people who may be here illegally.

Grace is unmerited favor.  God granted us His favor not only when we didn’t deserve it, but when we should have received His judgment.  When we comprehend how rich God’s grace is toward us, then we will want to show that same grace to others.  While Christians should voice their opinions in the public square regarding immigration or any other issue that America faces, we must never forget that the Church’s primary mission is not practicing social justice, but rather proclaiming the amazing grace of and glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all people, regardless of their ethnicity or language or immigration status. 

The people who live near you and your church are not there by accident or coincidence.  God has determined not only their place of residence, but yours (and mine) as well.  Remember that the next time you discuss the problem of illegal immigration.  It may not change your view on border security or amnesty.  But maybe, just maybe, it will cause you to see the multitude of real people right in front of you who are seeking after God in the hope that they might find Him.  And as you see them, respond with grace and love, pointing ALL people to the One who “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth!”


About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
This entry was posted in Grace, Immigration Reform and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Birthright Citizenship & Illegals: A Grace Response

  1. Tammy Rawling says:

    Thank you, Howell, for a well thought out response to this debate. I agree with it completely. It is very disheartening that, with so many things our politicians could accomplish, there are those who feel that they should try to change our Constitution. Very frustrating.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Hope you and your family are doing well. Thanks for reading and commenting. The immigration issue is such a hot potato — a collision of political, legal, and religious worlds. Too often, both sides look at the issue only through a political lens. When that happens, all sorts of radical ideas get tossed around, like changing the 14th Amendment. In any event, the Church still needs to minister to those in the community. Have a wonderful day. God bless,


  2. Marty says:

    Well. I was wondering when we were going to get to this part of the argument. I am not going to argue with you on the sovereignity of God, Howell. As a Reformed Calvinist, it’s something I’m incapable of doing. I will, however, take issue with your criticism of congressmen in office who want to amend the Constitution. The 14th Amendment was put in place to resolve an entirely different issue than the problems it is causing today. When last I checked a couple years ago, we were one of only three countries in the world, and the only 1st world country at that, that conferred citizenship upon those born on the country’s soil. That amendment was put in place to confer citizenship upon the emancipated slaves after the civil war. It is being grossly abused nowadays and it needs to be amended. The problems this country faces by allowing anchor babies are far greater than the ones we would face were the amendment changed. We have immigration policies in place for good reason and they are not to establish us to be the world’s place of solace for refugees. I am not against compassionate refugee status. We have laws in place to allow for a certain number of refugees a year. But the rest of the world needs to shoulder the burden as well. Our immigration policies and laws exist to improve and contribute to the American way of life. We cannot and, more importantly, SHOULD not take just anybody. We have criteria concerning ability to work, criminal record, education, and health. These are not cruel laws. They are in place to ensure the continuity of our economy and the well-being of our fellow hardworking Americans. The flow of illegals must be stemmed and we don’t do it by just “sealing the borders” as some have suggested.
    Forgive the crude analogy, but when I was growing up, mummified taught me that if I didn’t want ants in my kitchen, I had to make sure there were no crumbs on the floor. I really hate to compare human beings to animals but the metaphor rings true. We must make it unappealing for illegals to come here. We have already proved that a Border Patrol Agent standing on the line is not enough. We must make worksite enforcement, healthcare strictures, and citizenship limitations Priority One or this will never end. More to be said on this…

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks for your comment. Let me reply to your arguments. First, and I think the easiest, is what the Church should do in terms of proclaiming the Gospel to all people without regard to their nationality, ethnicity, or immigration status. From a religious/Gospel point of view, I am not overly concerned with knowing the immigration status of someone attending Bethel or that I encounter in other situations. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be an issue for our federal gov’t, but for the Church, it should not be a main concern. We need to minister to and share the Gospel with all people that God has sovereignly placed in our area of ministry.

      Secondly, don’t read my take on the 14th Amendment too broadly. Do we need to take steps to address the “anchor baby” situation? Yes. Will building a fence and beefing up border patrol, by themselves, work to cut off the influx of illegals? No. I agree that we need to make it unattractive for illegals to want to come or to stay (which is what Arizona is trying to do) and that includes cracking down on companies that hire illegals.

      From a political viewpoint, one of the ways that we should not employ in this case is changing the 14th Amendment. Even if the amendment was originally intended to confer citizenship on the freed slaves, the 14th Amendment has been interpreted more broadly by the courts and by the court of public opinion. Speaking as a conservative who by and large votes Republican, I think the strategy of tinkering with the 14th Amendment will fail, not only legally, but also politically. As I said, the motives for making changes may be noble and pure, but the perception will be that the “evil, nasty Republicans want to take away birthright citizenship for Mexicans just like they would have denied citizenship for slaves at the end of the Civil War.” Now, both you and I know that is wrong. But, the political reality is that messing with a post-Civil War amendment will be painted as racist and worse. That may not be true, but appearances will trump reality. Look foward to more dialogue on this issue. God bless,


  3. Marty says:

    And that should read. “my mother” not “mummified”. Stupid auto correction on my phone. Grrr

    • Bennett Willis says:

      Ain’t Technology Grand! 🙂 I was wondering how things came to be mummified.

      There is a significant amount of scripture telling us that we should take care of the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the alien in our land. We should have to work through those before we get too certain about how things should be changed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s