Center for American Progress

The 14th Amendment Is Clear on Birthright Citizenship

The 14th Amendment Is Clear on Birthright Citizenship

Birthright citizenship was enshrined in the first sentence of the 14th amendment.

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The Constitution is a foundational document, not a blog for political editors. The United States adopted the 14th Amendment in 1868 to ensure due process and equal protection of the laws to all persons regardless of race, color, or ancestry. Birthright citizenship was enshrined in the first sentence of the amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

Legislative history shows that Congress intended to give citizenship upon birth to all children, including the children of immigrants. Only two classes of children were explicitly excluded: the children of diplomats and children of some Native American tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status in 1868. Amendments to the Constitution have historically sought to enhance civil rights. Yet an amendment repealing birthright citizenship would mark the first time the Constitution was amended to roll back fundamental rights. A movement in that direction cannot be justified by the political advancement of a handful of politicians.

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment has repeatedly withstood legal challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in hallmark decisions in 1898 and 1982 that a person should not be denied citizenship because of his or her parents’ noncitizenship status and that children have no control over their parents’ conduct. And the Court again in 2004 accepted as settled legal fact that birth confers status.

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