Automatic Citizenship For Children Of Illegals?

Automatic Citizenship for Children of Illegals?
Global Trend Is Toward Tighter Policies

Contact: Jon Feere,, (202) 466-8185
Center for Immigration Studies
Washington, D.C.
August 31, 2010

Every year, 300,000 to 400,000 children are born to illegal immigrants in the United States, each one of them automatically a U.S. citizen despite the illegal status of their parents. This practice of automatic, or birthright, citizenship is not the result of any specific legislation, regulation, executive order, or judicial ruling, and yet has become de facto law of the land.

This has recently become an issue of political controversy, but has been debated for many years. Legislation aimed at narrowing the scope of birthright citizenship has been introduced in every Congress for many years, and the latest iteration has attracted nearly 100 sponsors in the current Congress. Likewise, some leading legal scholars and jurists have long questioned whether such a permissive citizenship policy is constitutionally mandated.

The international trend is clearly away from universal birthright citizenship. Those countries that have ended the practice in recent years include the United Kingdom (1983), Australia (1986), India (1987), Malta (1989), Ireland (2005), New Zealand (2006), and the Dominican Republic (2010). The overwhelming majority of the worlds countries do not offer automatic citizenship to everyone born within their borders.

In a new report, 'Birthright Citizenship in the United States: A Global Comparison,' the Center for Immigration Studies' legal policy analyst Jon Feere reviews the history of the issue in American law and presents the most up-to-date research on birthright citizenship policies throughout the world. The global findings are the result of direct communication with foreign government officials and analysis of foreign law. The report concludes that Congress should promote a serious discussion about whether the United States should automatically confer the benefits and burdens of U.S. citizenship on the children of aliens whose presence is temporary or illegal.

Among the findings:

Only 30 of the worlds 194 countries grant automatic citizenship to children born to illegal aliens.

Of advanced economies, Canada and the United States are the only countries that grant automatic citizenship to children born to illegal aliens.

No European country grants automatic citizenship to children of illegal aliens.

The global trend is moving away from automatic birthright citizenship as many countries that once had such policies have ended them in recent decades.

14th Amendment history seems to indicate that the Citizenship Clause was never intended to benefit illegal aliens nor legal foreign visitors temporarily present in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the U.S.-born children of permanent resident aliens are covered by the Citizenship Clause, but the Court has never decided whether the same rule applies to the children of aliens whose presence in the United States is temporary or illegal.

Eminent scholars and jurists, including Professor Peter Schuck of Yale Law School and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, have concluded that it is within the power of Congress to define the scope of the Citizenship Clause through legislation, and that birthright citizenship for the children of temporary visitors and illegal aliens could likely be abolished by statute without amending the Constitution.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States