One of the biggest political issues that is circulating in the news lately is birthright citizenship. With all of the controversy going on, it can be hard to keep track of the exact details of the laws in question.
Birthright citizenship is the citizenship that a person is granted based on the location and other circumstances of his or her birth. Any person born in the territory of the U.S. is granted citizenship. This right is called “jus soli.” U.S. citizenship is also granted to a child born overseas to U.S. citizen. This social policy is called “jus sanguinis.”
A person’s citizenship is governed by federal law, which is a large part why the issue has caused national disputes throughout history. The first time that a Supreme Court focused on the issue of citizenship was during the Dred Scott case. In 1857, the ruling that declared that black people were not U.S. citizens, even if they were the children of freed slaves. In 1868, this was changed and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The first sentence states that “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.” The ruling in the Dred Scott case was overturned and black Americans were legally U.S. citizens.
But there were still a number of unanswered questions. The 14th Amendment contained the clause “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”, which was ambiguous. People were unsure whether the children born to Chinese immigrants were conferred birthright citizenship, since they were once under law not permitted to become naturalized citizens. There was also confusion as to whether the law applied to Native Americans born on sovereign reservations.
The questions were settled in the 1898 Supreme Court Case United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The court decided that the concept of jus soli should be applied to the 14th Amendment with a few exceptions. Children born to diplomats or hostile occupying forces, as well as those born on foreign ships, were not included in the 14th Amendment. Most legal scholars feel that these restrictions do not exclude children of undocumented immigrants from gaining automatic citizenship, and current jurisprudence follows suit, giving citizenship to U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.
When it came to Native Americans, the court ruled that the Amendment did not give birthright to those born on reservations because they aren’t subject U.S. jurisdiction. However, this changed years later. The Nationality Act of 1940 stated that all Native Americans born in the US are citizens.
The U.S. is different from the rest of the world. The majority of other countries provide people with citizenship based on jus sanguinis, which follows the mentality that people are bonded together by ancestry, according to sociologist John Skrentny. Skrentny states that the U.S. follows the idea that you are bonded by your current location and the ideas that you might share locally.
One of the biggest conversations surrounding immigration is that of birthright citizenship. With everything happening in the U.S. currently, it’s important that we keep in mind the history of birthright citizenship.