How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Five key things to know about the birthright citizenship debate

In recent months, the discussion over whether the United States should deny citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants has moved from the fringes of the immigration debate to center stage.

Emboldened by a recession-era political climate and the legislative victory of Arizona's stringent SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law, which has inspired multiple spinoffs even as parts of it remain hung up in court, federal and state conservative legislators have introduced a spate of proposals in the past month aimed at ending the longstanding U.S. policy of automatic citizenship at birth.

These measures seek to change how U.S. citizenship is defined under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, either by amendment or reinterpretation. Here is how Section 1 of the amendment reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

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From readers, thoughts on the 14th Amendment debate

Photo by Chuck Coker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

U.S. Constitution art, September 2008

Yesterday I wrapped up a weeklong series of posts on the battle over birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which as interpreted guarantees citizenship to all those born on U.S. soil.

The series coincided with the introduction of four anti-birthright citizenship bills filed last week in Arizona, intended to force a Supreme Court reinterpretation of the amendment. These were among several related measures filed last month by Republican legislators in Congress and in two other states, all intended to eventually deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants.

Along the way, I’ve appreciated a number of interesting comments from Multi-American readers. Some came from readers who appeared to have a legal background (“As any first year law student knows…” one comment began), making for a great discussion on a complicated topic.

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Report: Most undocumented parents arrived long before having kids

Photo by David Herholz/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Babies nap in a Missouri hospital nursery, February 2010

An interesting nugget buried inside a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center is relevant to the current debate over birthright citizenship brewing in Congress and state legislatures.

The report, which provides a snapshot of the current undocumented population in this country, finds that 91 percent of the undocumented parents who had babies in the United States over a one-year period ending last March had already been here several years.

Some of the details:

The Pew Hispanic Center analysis also examined year-of-arrival patterns for unauthorized immigrant parents of babies born from March 2009 to March 2010, to see how long the parents had been in the United States before their children were born. If year of arrival was available for both parents, the analysis used the most recently arrived parent.

According to the analysis, 9% of these unauthorized immigrants who had babies in 2009-2010 had arrived in the U.S. in 2008 or later. An additional 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and the remaining 61% arrived in the United States before 2004.

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The future of birthright citizenship: A wrap-up

Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

Elementary school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a September 11 memorial service in Tyler, Texas, 2003

During the past week, Multi-American has dissected the growing debate over the United States' longstanding policy of jus soli citizenship, commonly known as birthright citizenship.


Posts prior to the series covered the history of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868; the content of model legislation introduced

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The end of birthright citizenship: Could it happen here?

Photo by Victoria Bernal/Flickr (Creative Commons)


In September, a report from the Migration Policy Institute took a shot at predicting what the unauthorized population of the United States might look like in 2050 if birthright citizenship were repealed.

It estimated that depending on the rules established, the total unauthorized population - now estimated at around 11 million - would grow over the next four decades to anywhere between 16 million and 24 million. Not because more people would necessarily be entering illegally, but because these immigrants would be having U.S. born second-generation undocumented children. And because these children, without legal status, would eventually have third-generation undocumented children of their own.

Even if all new illegal immigration into the United States were to stop, the report concluded, the biggest drop in the unauthorized population would occur among foreign-born immigrants, with slower but still-steady growth of an undocumented second and possibly future generations.

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