5 Fast Facts on Birthright Citizenship

October 30th, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - Today, President Trump revealed his plan to issue an executive order, attempting to end birthright citizenship of children born to undocumented parents in the United States. The 14th amendment of the Constitution grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil. The Constitution can only be amended by a vote by two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states.

Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, issued the following statement:

"Another day, another desperate Trump political ploy attacking immigrants.  Deploying military troops against asylum seekers a thousand miles away and stripping citizenship from babies is an attack on the very foundation of this country. But a man who has never read the Constitution cannot rewrite it just to score political points. Get ready to fight Mr. Trump, immigrants have made America great for generations and we're not going anywhere."

5 Fast Facts on Birthright Citizenship

  1. The concept of “Jus Soli”, enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, grants citizenship to all persons born in the United States and subject to its laws, irrespective of parents’ immigration status or lack thereof: “all persons born or naturalized in the US, and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the US and of the state wherein they reside.” The concept of birthright citizenship was written in the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which said that all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power was a US Citizen.

  2. These are not new arguments. When the 14th Amendment was debated in Congress in 1866, opponents used remarkably similar language as Mr. Trump: Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania warned that birthright citizenship could result in "a flood of immigration of the Mongol race." Millions of Chinese might pour unimpeded into California, where they could quickly outnumber – and outcompete – native Americans. Thieving, swindling, trespassing Gypsies could overrun the country, and "people from Borneo, man-eaters or cannibals, if you please" would be given free rein to wreak their havoc in our country (SPLC).  However, challenges to the Fourteenth Amendment as it was passed have failed.  During the years of the Chinese Exclusion Act the U.S. Government attempted to deny citizenship to the children of Chinese immigrants, but the Supreme Court held that those children met the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.

  3. The United States is not the only country in the world to grant birthright citizenship. At least thirty countries do so, including Canada and Mexico.

  4. Unlike immigration laws, which are passed and amended by Congress, citizenship is rooted in the Constitution and the President’s wide powers over immigration do not reach that far.  The Constitution cannot be amended by Executive power. Changing the Constitution requires either a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress with three-fourths of the States approving the change or a Constitutional Convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures with three-fourths of the States approving the change.

  5. Ending birthright citizenship would dramatically increase the role of government, requiring the creation of extensive new government bureaucracy along with new costs, burdensome procedures, invasion of privacy, and legal disputes. Eliminating birthright citizenship would create a de facto "birth tax" for many because many Americans do not have government documents that establish U.S. citizenship. Eliminating birthright citizenship would also inevitably result in some children in the United States being born stateless, meaning that they would have no citizenship in any country in the world--putting them at risk of the denial of their most basic rights and to severe forms of exploitation.


For more than 115 years, the Supreme Court has affirmed that the 14th Amendment means that the fundamental measure of citizenship in the United States is rooted in the soil on which an American is born or naturalized, and has rejected the argument that children born in the United States could be denied citizenship based on their parents’ immigration status.

The Citizenship Clause was adopted in the wake of the Dred Scott decision to foreclose the possibility of an unequal class system of people born in the United States. Citizenship upon birth is enshrined in the Constitution so that the fundamental promise of equality and opportunity that this country stands for will not be subject to the political whims of a shifting majority.