Does the 14th Amendment Grant Citizenship to Children of Foreigners?

Today, most people believe that children of illegal aliens who are born in the United States are automatically conferred citizenship by virtue of the 14th Amendment. American politicians regularly pontificate on this topic, basing their positions on constitutional and humanitarian grounds. The issue is considered settled by the federal courts, which have announced continually that this passage was meant to grant citizenship to the children of all foreigners and aliens.

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The Constitution and Birthright Citizenship

The short version is this: The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment conveys U.S. citizenship on all persons “born … in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Obviously we are talking here about persons “born … in the United States.” Thus the children of illegal aliens are not U.S. citizens only if they are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

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The Meaning of “Natural Born”: What if Blackstone Was Wrong?

In thinking about the phrase “natural born Citizen” in the Constitution’s eligibility clause, I have assumed (1) that it follows from the English law phrase “natural born subject” and (2) that “natural born subject” at minimum meant anyone born within sovereign territory (apart from children of invaders and diplomats).  The latter point seems clear from Blackstone, who says as much, quite clearly. 

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Natural Born Citizens and Minor v Happersett

I had an interesting exchange by email with a reader I’ll identify (at his request) just as TJ, an independent researcher, about the original meaning of “natural born citizen” and my views expressed in this post.  We’ve covered a lot of ground so I’m just going to pick out a part of it here, regarding the Supreme Court’s 1874 decision in Minor v. Happersett.

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Amicus Brief in Tuaua v. United States

Last week I joined a group of distinguished scholars on this amicus brief filed in support of plaintiffs/appellants in Tuaua v. United States, the Samoan citizenship case now at the D.C. Circuit.  As I’ve discussed before, the issue is whether the Constitution allows the United States to treat inhabitants of American Samoa (a U.S. territory) as something less than American citizens (they are called “non-citizen nationals”).

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