Under the U.S. Constitution, if someone is born in the U.S., he or she is automatically granted citizenship. At least, that is the common interpretation of the 14th Amendment. President Trump disagrees, however, and is reviewing an executive order that would end the practice of the federal government recognizing birthright citizenship.
The issue of birthright citizenship is involved with the larger discussion of illegal immigration. President Trump and many other advocates for stricter immigration enforcement argue that allowing anyone born within the U.S. to become a citizen is a policy that attracts illegal immigrants. They argue that citizenship should not be given to the children of those who break the laws. This citizenship entitles the child to a variety of rights and privileges that, critics argue, help sustain illegal immigration.
Those who favor birthright citizenship say that the U.S. has a long tradition of recognizing this type of citizenship. They say that giving the government power to restrict who can be a citizen or strip citizenship from people using political factors can lead to danger.
While many argue that the policy of birthright citizenship is flawed, there has been disagreement on how to reform it. Most observers think that a constitutional amendment is necessary. That is because the 14th Amendment says, “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.”
Some legal scholars argue that if someone is an illegal immigrant, he or she is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, so their children cannot be granted birthright citizenship. Others point out that whether or not an immigrant is here legally or illegally, he or she is subject to the laws and authority of the U.S. government. That clause, they say, applies to only a small class of people, such as diplomats.
The 14th Amendment was written after the Civil War to ensure that southern states could not deny citizenship to newly-freed slaves. At the time, the nation had no federal restrictions on immigration, so there was no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” The question of citizenship for immigrants did not arise until later in the 19th century, when the Supreme Court ruled that a child born to immigrants was indeed a citizen. This case, however, did not deal specifically with children of illegal immigrants.
President Trump appears to be embracing a legal theory that denies the Constitution clearly provides for birthright citizenship, so the federal government can use a stricter definition of citizenship. Under this theory, the president can issue an executive order telling federal agencies to use this stricter citizenship designation.
There has been no action yet from President Trump to sign such an executive order. If he does, there are certain to be legal challenges to it.
Do you think that anyone who is born in the U.S. should be a citizen? Should the Constitution be amended to end birthright citizenship? Or can birthright citizenship be revoked by an executive order?