The ancient Latin noun meretrix means "prostitute" and is the origin of the English adjective: meretricious. Collins Dictionary defines meretricious as: false, hollow, bogus, put-on, mock. sham, pseudo, counterfeit, spurious, deceitful, insincere, specious, phoney or phony.

All of the above adjectives could well be used to describe an argument against upholding the 14th Amendment's grant of birthright citizenship to all US-born children (except the children of foreign diplomats) regardless of their parents' race, nationality or immigration status, which is now being peddled by restrictionistas under the guise of objective scholarship and research into comparative law.

This argument is that since most countries of the world (outside of our own Western Hemisphere, which generally follows US practice), do not recognize birthright citizenship for all children born in their territory, but instead base citizenship rights on the parents' race, religion, national origin, or other status, the United States might have something to learn from their example and should consider abolishing the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship guarantee.

This proposal, which is obviously aimed at denying citizenship to the children of Latino and Asian immigrants, as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush now openly admit, is so lacking in good faith that it might have made an ancient Roman meretrix blush with shame.

For example, this is how House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a former immigration lawyer, framed his suggestion that it might be a good idea to consider tampering with the Constitution of the United States of America in order to turn millions of American-born children into pariahs with no legal status in this country at all. Here is an extract from his opening statement made at hearings on birthright citizenship conducted by the House Subcommittee on immigration and Border Security on April 28:

"Very few countries with advanced economies have a policy of birthright citizenship. In fact, of the G20 countries, only the United States, Canada and Mexico automatically grant citizenship based on the individual being born in the country, despite the citizenship or immigration status of the parents. That is not to say that just because other countries do not have a certain policy or law, the U.S. should not have that policy or law. But as members of Congress, we should have an open and honest discussion about the consequences of automatic birthright citizenship.

So far, this sounds as if Rep. Goodlatte is getting ready to launch a neutral study, or maybe to write a law review article, on the international law of citizenship. Who could argue with that? But then he goes on to show his true motives, namely to cater to and stir up animosity against Mexican and other Latino immigrants ("illegals"), as well as Asians ("birth tourists"):

"Evidence suggests that automatic birthright citizenship incentivizes illegal immigration and abuse of U.S. immigration law and policy. And extremely troubling is the rise of the birth tourism phenomenon in which pregnant women from foreign countries briefly come to the U.S. specifically to give birth here so their children become U.S. citizens."

Yes, Congressman, I am sure that you and your supporters must be extremely troubled by the fact that a very few thousand Chinese women every year who come to the US as legal visitors and then return to China with their babies after giving birth in the US can enable these children to become American citizens by birth. Sure. isn't preventing that kind of "abuse" ("too many" Asian children becoming American citizens) the reason why we once had the Chinese exclusion laws, at one of the darkest, most prejudiced times in our history? Do you want to bring those laws back?

In an upcoming post, I will discuss an August 27 Huffington Post article, These Countries Show Why Losing Birthright Citizenship Could Be A Disaster, which illustrate exactly how severe the consequences can be of not recognizing birthright citizenship for all children. The countries mentioned are Germany, Japan, Dominican Republic and Kuwait.

Finally, as a disclaimer, I do not in any way mean to compare public figures in either party (see Matt Kolken's reference to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in his comment below) who try to put a respectable gloss on their appeals to prejudice by pretending to be concerned only with research into international law (or, in Harry Reid's case, with saving taxpayers' money), when their real purpose, based on their statements, is more likely to be tearing up the Constitution and abolishing birthright citizenship for millions of American-born Latino and Asian children, with a meretrix in classical Roman times.

She, at least, was selling something genuine.
Roger Algase as a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas, green cards and US citizenship for more than 30 years. His email address is