What Birthright Citizenship is and Why it Matters

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018


President Trump has been attempting to mobilize his base for the upcoming midterm elections by doubling down on his hard-line immigration rhetoric. On “Axios on HBO,” the President expressed his disagreement with birthright citizenship, claiming that, “It’s ridiculous… and it has to end.” President Trump plans to remove the right to birthright citizenship for children of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants through an executive order, a move of questionable constitutionality as birthright citizenship is affirmed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The second of the “Reconstruction Amendments,” the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified by Congress on July 9, 1868. Because the Supreme Court ruled that Black people were not eligible for citizenship under the Constitution in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case, the Republican majority in Congress wanted to amend the Constitution to allow the newly freed men and women to become citizens. The Amendment reads:  “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.”

Opponents of birthright citizenship for all immigrants claim that the Amendment was not written to apply to children of foreigners. However, history proves otherwise. Democrat President Johnson vetoed the 1866 Civil Rights Act, the precursor to the Fourteenth Amendment, because it would apply to immigrants and other groups that he looked down upon (Congress proceeded to override the President’s veto, the first time an Executive Veto was overturned in American history). The Fourteenth Amendment’s application to immigrants was confirmed by the Supreme Court when it stood by the jus soli, or birthright citizenship, of legal immigrants during the 1889 Wong Kim Ark case.

While President Trump cannot override the Supreme Court’s decision by executive order, Congress can amend the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship. This would be an utterly disastrous move as birthright citizenship helps the children of immigrants assimilate into American culture quicker. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute explains that “the lack of birthright citizenship [in Germany and Japan] created a legal underclass of resentful and displaced young people who were officially discriminated against in the government-run education system and had tenuous [weak] allegiance to the country in which they were born.” On the other hand, the children of immigrants in the United States have a stronger allegiance to our country because of their citizenship status and equal protection under the law.

Another criticism of birthright citizenship is its alleged abuse by illegal immigrants. President Trump has called birthright citizenship a magnet for illegal immigration and many critics of birthright citizenship cite illegal immigration. The Supreme Court has not directly ruled on the Fourteenth Amendment’s application to illegal immigrants. Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute argues that illegal aliens and their children are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States because “[they] are subject to our laws and can be prosecuted and convicted of violations… unlike diplomats… and unlike foreign invaders,” but acknowledges that “the Fourteenth Amendment’s enactors probably didn’t intend birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.” The lack of decisiveness of the issue has led to contentious debate over birthright citizenship and illegal immigration.

Those against birthright citizenship often point to the birth tourism industry as an example of the negatives associated with the right. It’s true that some well-off foreign nationals come to the United States to deliver their child here. It’s true that the child becomes an American citizen and receives all the benefits associated with citizenship without benefiting the country in any way. However, as with any right, the actions of a few should not be used to justify violating the rights of the many. If many Americans view the birth tourism industry as a problem, more reasonable solutions should be introduced to combat it.

By in large, birthright citizenship has a positive effect on our country. President Reagan once remarked that “an immigrant can live in France but not become a Frenchman; he can live in Germany but not become a German; he can live in Japan but not become Japanese, but anyone from any part of the world can come to America and become an American.” This is undoubtedly true. I am a second generation American. While my parents were immigrants,  I consider myself American and nothing else; my allegiance lies with the union and the constitution.

Removing birthright citizenship would be a win for those ignorant about immigration; it’s one of the many things that makes this nation of immigrants the greatest in the world.

Siddharth Reddy is an Eagle Scout and an undergraduate at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a civil libertarian, Sid is a strong proponent of natural rights and government accountability. When he isn’t occupied with politics, you can find him reading history and philosophy, studying geography and international relations, or baking bread and other treats.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Siddharth Reddy

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Siddharth Reddy is an Eagle Scout and an undergraduate at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a civil libertarian, Sid is a strong proponent of natural rights and government accountability. When he isn’t occupied with politics, you can find him reading history and philosophy, studying geography and international relations, or baking bread and other treats.

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