Robbed of Citizenship at Birth?

April 27, 2016

At the culmination of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution established birthright citizenship to emancipated slaves.  The Amendment states in relevant part 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 reside1.”

Against the backdrop of so much discussion surrounding birthright citizenship, much of the debate is focused on the concern for children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents.  This concern is expressed in a lens that erroneously deems these US born children to be “anchor babies.”  Stigma associated with undocumented immigrants to this country having their children on U.S. soil not only ignores a societal problem of discrimination on the basis of national origin, but it also feeds into the irrational fear of “Hispanic takeover.”  Proponents states denying citizenship to US born children claim to “want their country back.”  

In the second GOP presidential debate, Donald Trump furthered this sentiment. Trump joins many others in a different reading of the the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship, which argues that these children serve as an anchor to their parents obtaining permanent residency in the U.S.2  These same people also argue that immigrants to this country somehow have a masterful idea to take advantage of welfare as an incentive to childbirth: "The present guarantee under American law of automatic birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens can one more incentive to illegal migration and violation by nonimmigrant aliens already here[.] When this attraction is combined with the powerful lure of the expanded entitlements conferred upon citizen children and their families by the modern welfare state, the total incentive effect of birthright citizenship may well become significant.3

On October 16, 2015 a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that Texas can continue to deny issuing birth certificates to children born of undocumented Mexican immigrants. This raises some serious concerns when the 14th Amendment to the Constitution declares, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of a citizen of the United States.”

Texas appears to think it is its own country.  When the 14th amendment was enacted 147 years ago, barriers were placed to make it difficult, or rather, impossible for former slaves to vote, or even obtain an education. Today, the state treats children of undocumented immigrants not much different. In fact, these newly-born U.S. citizens are being treated as second class citizens who will have to wait 18 years to start enjoying the benefits of citizenship that was robbed of them at birth.


1. U.S. Const. amend. XIV

2. See,

3. Peter Schuck & Rogers Smith, "Consensual Citizenship" (Chronicles, July 1992)


About Author(s)

marisapr's picture
Marisa is a third-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing certificates in Health Law and in Latin American Studies. She is interested in gender and race issues and how they affect immigration and immigrant communities. She also does research in public health issues. She has been contributing with articles for Panoramas since 2015.