Birthright citizenship, or jus soli, is a legal right to citizenship for all children born in a country’s territory, regardless of parentage. This right has been inherent to the American culture since the ratification of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution in 1868. Only about 30 countries in the world observe this common law principal, and the majority of these countries are within the Americas.
Presently, anti-immigration protestors have been fighting to abolish birthright citizenship in the U.S. because they believe that this will discourage future illegal migration. They also believe that it would force undocumented people to return to their home countries. However, what they cease to realize is that if birthright citizenship is eliminated, it will not resolve the immigration issues that are prevalent in the U.S., rather it would make the situation worse.
People have many reasons for migrating to the U.S. They come to the U.S. to seek opportunities for themselves and their children, refuge from violence, make a living to support their families, and to participate in a system that is not as corrupt as their governments back home. Abolishing birthright citizenship will not deter such individuals from emigrating to the U.S because they believe that coming to the U.S. and having no legal status is better than living desolate half lives in their home countries. In this way, a new group of individuals will be created— “stateless” people.
Individuals who are born in countries that do not observe birthright citizenship (which is the majority of countries in the world) are not citizens of any country if they cannot claim a nationality through their parents or are not eligible to acquire a nationality later in life. Such persons are “stateless.” There are currently about 10 million people in the world who have no nationality and are stateless. These people are unable to have access to government benefits or acquire high paying stable jobs that would allow them to afford such benefits. In some countries it is difficult for such people to obtain identification cards, open bank accounts or even enroll in universities. These individuals cannot vote or acquire passports to board flights or travel to other countries.
Historically, stateless persons acquired their status for the following reasons:
- States arbitrarily deprived those born within their borders of their nationality due to their ethnicity or race; or
- Countries redrew their borders in a way that failed to include groups of people; or
- There are gaps in nationality laws; or
- Citizens lived outside of their country for too long and can no longer claim citizenship through that country.
Similarly, if the U.S. abolished birthright citizenship, it will only contribute to increasing the number of stateless people in the world. The number of undocumented people in the U.S. would grow exponentially because, not only will those who illegally migrated to the U.S. be stateless, but so will any children that they have on U.S. soil.
Proponents of abolishing birthright citizenship claim that they only desire to modify the classifications in Title III of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), not the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so that birthright citizenship will only not apply to children of illegal immigrants that are born on U.S. soil. However, immigration law professors disagree with the advocates and believe that merely altering the INA is not sufficient to change such an important right. Rather, they believe that a new amendment will have to be added to the U.S. Constitution that eliminates the part of the 14th Amendment which permits birthright citizenship.
Regardless of what needs to be done to abolish birthright citizenship, the entire idea is flawed. If our country chooses to embark on this path, it will create new problems that will be even more difficult to resolve than the current immigration issues that need to be addressed.
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