Birthright Citizenship: What It Is and Why We Need to Preserve It

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There has been a media frenzy over one of the more draconian components of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump’s immigration policy platform. In his plan, released earlier this week, he writes that the U.S. should “End Birthright Citizenship.” However, despite the attention Trump is getting for this, he is not the first—nor the last—to suggest changing the Constitution as a way to reform our immigration system. Volumes have been written in defense of birthright citizenship, yet it is regularly attacked by anti-immigrant politicians.

In 2010, when the Arizona legislators behind SB1070 went after birthright citizenship, Michele Waslin, Ph.D. explained the background and ramifications of changing it:

“Birthright citizenship, or the principle of jus soli, means that any person born within the territory of the U.S is a citizen, regardless of the citizenship of one’s parents. This principle was established well before the U.S. Constitution, and was enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. It was necessary to include the citizenship clause in the Fourteenth Amendment because the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857 had denied citizenship to the children of slaves. Following the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment righted that injustice and became the foundation for civil rights law, equal protection, and due process in the United States.”

Waslin also explained the ramifications of altering it:

“Far from affecting only illegal immigrants, birthright citizenship impacts everyone. If simply being born in the U.S. and having a U.S. birth certificate were not proof of citizenship, Americans would have to navigate complex laws to prove their citizenship. Other than a birth certificate, most Americans do not have government documents that establish U.S. citizenship.”

In 2015, when the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to attack birthright citizenship, Mark Noferi, Esq. wrote that repeal would not be upheld by the Supreme Court and attacks are based on faulty reasoning:

“…it is doubtful that legislation to repeal birthright citizenship would be constitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that ‘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.’ Based on this, the Supreme Court has upheld birthright citizenship for children of foreigners several times—holding that the Fourteenth Amendment means what it says, especially in light of its history…Moreover, repealing birthright citizenship is unnecessary. There is no evidence that undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. in large numbers just to give birth. ‘Anchor babies,’ a term the American Heritage Dictionary calls offensive and disparaging, make no sense given that a child cannot sponsor a parent for citizenship for at least 21 years.”

Marshall Fitz, Esq. also defended it as a core part of our American heritage and reminds those who continue to attack it of its history:

“Why do these Republican members want to revive the long moribund policies that their party’s most revered president (Lincoln) fought so hard to eradicate? Why do they want to create once again a legally sanctioned vulnerable and exploited underclass in this country? In order to advance an extreme anti-immigrant agenda under the dubious theory that changing the 14th Amendment’s citizenship rules will deter unauthorized immigration.”

Fitz adds that the “14th Amendment is not just another immigration policy…It defines who we are as a nation” and “categorically rejects the notion that America is a country club led by elites who get to pick and choose who can become members.”

Eliminating birthright citizenship would do nothing to solve our immigration issues. In fact, it could have the opposite effect by increasing the size of the undocumented population. The Migration Policy Institute study found that if citizenship were denied to every child with at least one unauthorized parent, the unauthorized population in the U.S. would reach 24 million by 2050. Ultimately, this idea does nothing to advance real, immigration reform.

Photo by Katelyn Kenderdine.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Wendy Feliz is the Director of Communications at the American Immigration Council. Prior to joining the Council, Ms. Feliz served as Director of Development at New America Media, after having worked at the Open Society Institute, and public radio station WAMU 88.5 as the Manager of Foundation Relations and Public Information. Ms. Feliz has spent much of her career in the non-profit world including with The California Hispanic Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in East Los Angeles and The Young Adult Institute and Latino Worker’s Center in New York City. Ms. Feliz received her M.A. in Public Communication from the American University in Washington D.C. and she holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the New School University in New York.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.