Why Are Babies Born in US Citizens, Anyway?

US Citizen or undocumented immigrant?The origins of birthright citizenship, as it’s called, are surprising.


Today, with the uncertain future of American immigration–legal and illegal–we note that the original intent of part of the 14th amendment was actually to shield former slaves.


On the eve of the Civil War, the Supreme Court decided that slaves, and descendants of slaves, were not US citizens and could not sue in American courts, vote, nor serve on juries. Justice Roger Taney wrote, disturbingly, that blacks had no rights that whites were bound to respect. The case was called Dred Scott and is generally acknowledged as the worst Supreme Court ruling in American history. The Civil War was fought, in part, to bring citizenship to slaves.


A monstrous ruling is reversed


To correct this injustice, America ratified the 14th Amendment in 1868. Amendments are the most direct way of “checking” a Supreme Court decision. The 14th Amendment remedied the injustice of Dred Scott.


The 14th Amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” and further that “no state may deny to any of its citizens the equal protection of the laws.”


Sadly, native-born black Americans, were losing the rights that had just been won on the battlefield. Southern state governments, getting re-populated with white supremacists, sought to reverse the citizenship of children born to slaves. A similar tale applies to Native Americans, denied citizenship under the Constitution until the Citizens Act of 1924. It is sad to report that even the Declaration of Independence refers to the “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is the destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” This merciless characterization was followed by years of persecution of Native Americans in their own land. President Andrew Jackson even cited these words to justify Native American evictions in the 1830s.


Today the Trump administration is ending the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program that protected children of undocumented workers from being deported under President Obama’s executive order. Roughly 800,000 of these immigrants registered, most of them now adults. Their children are citizens because they were born in America. Deporting them means breaking up families.


For citizens concerned about “anchor babies,” the greater question is: “Why does the US extend citizenship rights to every person born on American soil?”


born in the USA?


Who gets to immigrate to America?


People from Mexico, Latin and South America, but also from Asian Pacific nations, do deliberately give birth in the U.S. to give their children dual citizenship. That’s known as “maternity tourism.” The children then sponsor family members to come to the U.S.  The RAISE Act, supported by President Trump, would curb the number of immigrants using family sponsorship. It would instead establish a “merit-based system,” giving points for proven education and income potential.


Some people want the Constitution amended to halt birthright citizenship. Only the US and Canada have it.


The debate’s fulcrum is whether the US ought to take in the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or admit only those who will directly and immediately benefit the economy. When the nation has been under economic pressure, the latter has been attractive, and it’s tempting to some to pull back the welcome mat from those who may need temporary help before they can contribute, such as refugees. And people brought here as children.


The Googling of America


However the History Dr contends that this is a false dichotomy. The nation need not choose between helping refugees and protecting its economic interests. Refugees and others determined enough to come to the US, whether legally or illegally, are motivated and “hungry.” Often desperate. Many create businesses that grow the economy, such as Google. Many start small businesses. Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, has Russian-Jewish emigrant parents who felt his chances in Russia were limited, so they left. Seems like that worked out pretty well for Brin, not to mention the rest of us.


The United States, unlike almost every other country in the world, treats its immigrants as a strength, not a liability. That’s why the US changed its Constitution to protect former slaves and by extension, the children of immigrants.


The History Dr celebrates this thinking–that anyone can be an American, because America is a set of ideas, not a physical place–and hopes it will withstand the current political climate.


Did you learn anything you didn’t know from this post? Do you want to add your opinion below? Share this with a friend and you’ll help the History Dr in his mission to eliminate “Amerinesia!”