At present all children born in the USA are automatically made citizens of the United States. This applies even if one or both parents are not themselves US citizens – they could be illegal immigrants, tourists, students, or legal immigrants temporarily working in America. In many other countries birthright citizenship does not exist; babies born in countries such as the UK or Japan do not automatically become citizens as their status depends on the citizenship and immigration status of their parents. As the debate over illegal immigration in the USA has gained strength over the past decade, there have been calls to change the US system by removing birthright citizenship. Similar debates have occurred in other countries, with Ireland voting by referendum to end birthright citizenship in 2005. On the other hand Germany used to restrict citizenship to those of German descent, but changed its laws in 2000 to give citizenship to many children born in Germany to parents who were non-citizen “guest-workers” (most Turkish in origin).
The debate in the USA is complicated by the origins of birthright citizenship there. The original United States Constitution, written in 1787, assumed the concept of citizenship but did not define it. Courts at state and federal level (notably Lynch v. Clarke in 1844) applied the English common law principle of “Jus soli” - the idea that you gain citizenship by virtue of your birth in a particular country – rather than “Jus sanguinis” (“citizenship of blood”), the alternative concept that a child acquires the status of their parents. However, major exceptions were made for Native Americans and African-Americans; notoriously, in the 1857 case of Dred Scott vs Sandford the US Supreme Court found that no African-American, whether slave or free, could be a citizen of the United States. This is why after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1866 (ratified 1868). This says 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.” Because of the 14th amendment it is usually argued that the only way to remove the right of birthright citizenship would be to amend the US Constitution. Although some Republicans are keen to overturn birthright citizenship, the party is not united on this issue and Democrats are solidly against the proposal, so a constitutional amendment to this effect is very unlikely to pass. However, some advocates of a change argue that the 14th Amendment has been misinterpreted in the past, and that by passing ordinary laws at federal or state level that challenge birthright citizenship, they could force the Supreme Court to look again at the issue.
Bernstein, J. (2006, June 29). Path to citizenship and out of povery. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Economic Policy Institute.Carafano, J. (2010, August 5). Rethinking Birthright Citizenship. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from The Foundry.Fonte, J. (2007, June 5). To "Possess the National Consciousness of an American". Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Center for Immigration Studies.Fox 10 News. (2010, July 15). McCain term 'regularization' draws criticism from opponent. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from MyFoxPhoenix.Fox News. (2010, July 29). Lawmakers consider ending citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. Retrieved June 8, 2011.Houston, M. R. (2000, May). Birthright Citizenship in the United Kingdom and the United States. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law.Jacoby, T. (n.d.). Should the U.S. end birthright citizenship? Retrieved June 8, 2011, from New York Times Upfront.Migration Policy Institute. (2010, September). The Demographic Impacts of Repealing Birthright Citizenship. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.Rawlins, A. (2011, January 26). The Birthright Citizenship Debate. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Council on Foreign Relations. Rubin, J. (2011, January 30). Birthright Citizenship. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from The Washington Post.Spalding, M. (2006, March 16). Making Citizens: The Case for Patriotic Assimiliation. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Heritage Foundation. Storobin, D. (2007, May 31). Exclusive interview: Jim Gilchrist of Minuteman Prokect on Immigration, Terror, Elections. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Global Politician.The Constitution of the United States. (n.d.). 14th Amendment. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Cornell University Law School.