How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Top five immigration stories of 2011, #4: Birthright citizenship

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The political battle over birthright citizenship exploded almost a year ago, when a series of states began introducing bills seeking to cut off the children born to undocumented immigrants from automatic U.S. citizenship.

The United States, like most countries in the Americas but unlike many European nations, has had a longstanding practice of jus soli citizenship, meaning citizenship is granted to those born on U.S. soil (jus soli is Latin for "right of the soil). Other nations, such as Germany, abide by versions of jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) citizenship, which there is granted only to children of citizens and/or legal residents.

The notion of barring the children of undocumented immigrants from receiving U.S. citizenship had long lingered on the more extreme fringes of the immigration restriction lobby. But in the anything-is-possible climate that followed the approval of Arizona's stringent SB 1070 last year, a group of like-minded state legislators banded together and, with the aid of attorneys who worked on SB 1070, created one-size-fits-all model state legislation that would distinguish between babies born to undocumented immigrants and other children when issuing state birth certificates.

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Readers' thoughts on the birthright citizenship debate

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Over the weekend, NPR featured a post that summarized a series on the birthright citizenship battle that appeared recently on Multi-American. The response from readers since has been phenomenal, with a long string of informed, if impassioned, comments.

The issue of birthright citizenship - and the goal of some legislators to deny it to children of undocumented immigrants - is at the center of the immigration debate at the moment. Last night, two anti-birthright citizenship bills introduced in the Arizona Senate last month were pulled by their sponsor after they failed to win enough support in a committee hearing. But the debate over who should be a U.S. citizen continues to thrive, with a spate of bills pending in Congress and in the states, including an Arizona House bill that has yet to be heard and most recently a state measure proposed in Montana.

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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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The future of birthright citizenship: A wrap-up

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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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A guide to birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment

Photo by Cliff 1066/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A child participates in a parade of flags, October 2010

The discussion over whether the United States should grant automatic citizenship to everyone who is born here isn't necessarily a new one, but in recent months, it's moved beyond talk.

In the past month, a couple of different legislative approaches have emerged to ending what is now a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment, affirmed by a landmark 1898 Supreme Court case that came out of California. One is a federal House bill that proposes a change to immigration law, introduced in early January by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa; another, less orthodox approach involves a coalition of conservative state legislators who plan to introduce bills at the state level that they hope will land in court, forcing a new Supreme Court review and, they hope, a reinterpretation that would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants.

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