Among the many other contributions that presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have made to the immigration debate is their advocacy in favor of restricting birthright citizenship based on birth in the US to the children of parents who are have legal status in this country. It is no secret that this proposal would, overwhelmingly, affect mainly Hispanic children and other children belonging to ethnic minorities such as Asians, Middle Easterners and those of African descent.

Trump and Cruz, of course, are not alone in suggesting that, at the very least, alternatives to universal birthright citizenship should be looked into and discussed openly. One of the arguments that has been advanced for so doing is the fact that, at least outside of the Western hemisphere, where a majority of nations follow current US policy in this regard, most nations of the world do not recognize birthright citizenship for everyone born within the territory of the country concerned. Instead, these countries have various forms of restrictions based on ancestry - in most cases along racial or religious lines.

In his opening remarks at the hearings of the House Committee on the Judiciary, which he chairs, on April 29, 2015, entitled: Birthright Citizenship - Is it the Right Policy for America? Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) stated the argument in favor of looking to the citizenship policies of other countries on this issue as follows:

"Very few countries with advanceced economies [i.e. mainly European countries] have a policy of birthright citizenship. In fact, of the G-20 countries, only the United States, Canada and Mexico automatically grant citizenship based on the individual being born in the country despite the immigration or citizenship 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 an honest discussion about the consequences of automatic birthright citizenship."

Nine decades ago, in 1925, a prominent German politician also had some reservations about automatic birthright citizenship as policy for his country, and he expressed admiration for the United States, which at the time had explicitly racially restrictive naturalization laws.

He wrote:

"Today the right of citizenship, as mentioned above, is obtained primarily by birth within
[original italics] the borders of a state. In this, race or nationality play no role whatsoever...

I know that people do not like to hear all this, but anything more thoughtless, more hare-brained than our present-day citizenship laws scarcely exists. There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception are noticeable. And of course, it is not our model German republic, but the American Union, in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigration on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalization
[italics added], it professes to show a view which is peculiar to the folkish state concept."


The writer of the above comment, about ten years later, had the opportunity to enact some highly restrictive citizenship laws in his own country. In the above comment, he did not specify which US laws he was referring to on the topic of racial exclusion from naturalization. However, he was no doubt referring to a 1917 law which barred all Asian immigrants from becoming naturalized US citizens by providing that only individuals of either white or African ancestry could become naturalized.

This law was upheld and enforced in two US Supreme Court decisions, Takao Ozawa v. U.S., 260 U.S. 178 (1922) and U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923). In the latter decision, the Court also relied on a 1918 law which barred all immigrants from the whole of Asia from entry into the US, much as Trump is seeking to do with regard to more than a billion Muslim immigrants from every part of the world today.

While this is not known for certain, it is not inconceivable that the above German writer may have also drawn inspiration from the US Immigration Act of 1924, which while not explicitly based on race, carried out the same purpose of racial exclusion by adopting "national origin" immigration quotas. These quotas effectively barred almost all Southern and Eastern European, Jewish and Middle Eastern immigrants from coming to the United States, while admitting immigrants from "Nordic" countries almost exclusively.

Instead of merely looking to Europe for guidance on citizenship policy, will America again one day become an inspiration for European lawmakers who wish to restrict citizenship or immigration on racial or religious grounds, along the lines of Trump's and Cruz's proposals to restrict birthright citizenship and Trump's call for barring all Muslim immigrants throughout the entire world from entering the United States?

If America winds up providing an example of leadership to Europe in this respect, it would not be the first time.
Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 35 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards.

Roger's email address is