Over the last few weeks, Donald Trump and others have proposed ending birthright citizenship, either through legislation or through an amendment to the Constitution. Mr. Trump suggests that ending birthright citizenship might not actually require an amendment to the constitution. The crux of the argument he alludes to the phrase in the 14th Amendment extending citizenship to those born in and “subject to the jurisdiction of” the United States. Some argue that this could be interpreted to exclude the children of undocumented aliens from birthright citizenship. The problem with this argument is that it has already been heard and rejected by the Supreme Court in the 1898 case of U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. Given the longstanding precedent on this issue, any change to birthright citizenship would need to come through an amendment to the Constitution.
Mr. Trump would presumably respond that if ending birthright citizenship truly does require a constitutional amendment, then we should go ahead and amend it. The reality is that the elimination of birthright citizenship would be disastrous public policy. America should be proud of its history of success in assimilating wave after wave of immigrants from all corners of the world, even in the face of different periods of anti-immigrant sentiment. That the children of immigrants are born as Americans and are invited to fully participate in our democracy is key to our incredible history of successful integration of immigrant communities into this nation. To take this away risks bringing up a generation of stateless children who speak English like any other American but have no incentive to buy into the system and become productive members of society.
As Linda Chavez pointed out in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “Our history has been largely one of continuously expanding the community of people regarded as Americans, from native-born whites to freed slaves to Indians to naturalized citizens of all races and ethnicities. Since the abolition of slavery, we have never denied citizenship to any group of children born in the U.S.—even when we denied citizenship to their parents, as we did Asian immigrants from 1882 to 1943. This expansive view of who is an American has been critical to our successful assimilation of millions of newcomers.”
If this formula has helped drive so much success throughout our history, why change it now?
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