AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP AND THE 14
The Constitutionally-protected principle of
grants citizenship to allindividuals born within the United States
Prior to the adoption of the 14
Amendment in 1868, U.S. citizenship was not defined bythe Constitution, but by the longstanding common law principle of
which granted anindividual
―citizenship in a nation by virtue of his birth in that nation
or its territorialpossessions.
U.S. courts rejected the alternative rule
―a personacquires the citizenship of his parents.‖
all children born on U.S. soil were U.S.citizens, with only two narrow exceptions: the children of foreign diplomats and the children of occupying enemy soldiers.
The proposed statute attempts to eliminate citizenship by birth and resurrect citizenshipdetermined by parentage, violating the fundamental constitutional principle that all children bornon U.S. soil begin life on equal footing under the law. The only time in our country
when citizenship depended on parentage as a matter of constitutional law was the eleven yearperiod following the notorious
decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court deniedcitizenship by birth to African-American slaves and their descendants.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866
and the first sentence of the firstsection of the 14
(the ―Citizenship Clause‖)
conclusively overturned the
decision and reaffirmed the
principle, guaranteeing U.S. citizenship for thedescendants of slaves
and for ―virtually everyone born in the United States,‖ including the U.S.
-born children of aliens.
Amendment preserves two common law exceptions through
the phrase, ―and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,‖ since diplomats and foreign soldiers were
not subject to U.S. law.
Congress clearly intended to grant citizenship to all children born in the United States,regardless of the immigration status of their parents, as the legislative history of the Civil RightsAct demonstrates. The Civil Rights Act states
all persons born in the United States and notsubject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of
the United States.‖
Congress understood that this would include children born to aliens, asshown by the Senate debates concerning the children of Chinese immigrants, when it was notedthat under the Act
―the child of an Asiatic is just as much a citizen as the child of a European
During the Senate debates about the 14
Amendment, Senator Jacob Howard proposedlanguage making the grant of citizenship by birth unequivocally universal and inclusive of children born to foreigners. Howard declared,
t]his amendment . . . is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that
person born within the limits of theUnited States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a
citizen of the United States.‖
He noted that while the common law exceptions had beenpreserved, the 14
―include every other class of persons.‖
adopted Howard‘s language, enshrining the right to citizenship by birth
as a constitutional right.
The Constitution ensures citizenship to all children born in the United States,
regardless of their parents’ immigration status.