Donald Trump is on solid constitutional ground when he calls for the elimination of birthright citizenship—just as Ron Paul was hardly on constitutional quicksand when he did the same, as a candidate for president, in 2008. Rep. Ron Paul’s plank was to restore the original intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment,” about which the left-libertarian Richard A. Posner—judge, United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and lecturer at University of Chicago Law School—is agreed, too.
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides 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.”
Justice Posner, hardly an immigration restrictionist, has argued that “the purpose of the rule was to grant citizenship to the recently freed slaves and the exception for children of foreign diplomats and heads of state shows that Congress does not read the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment literally.”
Yes, the Constitution is vague, ambiguously written and unevenly applied.
… There is said to be “a huge and growing industry in Asia that arranges tourist visas for pregnant women so they can fly to the United States and give birth to an American. Obviously, this was not the intent of the 14th Amendment; it makes a mockery of citizenship.’” John McCaslin, “Inside the Beltway: Rotund Tourists,” Wash. Times, Aug. 27, 2002, p. A7.
We should not be encouraging foreigners to come to the United States solely to enable them to confer U.S. citizenship on their future children. That abuse provides an argument for abolishing birthright citizenship. A constitutional amendment may be required to change the rule, thoiugh maybe not, see Peter H. Schuck & Rogers M. Smith, Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity 116–17 (1985); Dan Stein & John Bauer, “Interpreting the 14th Amendment: Automatic Citizenship for Children of Illegal Immigrants,” 7 Stanford L. & Policy Rev. 127, 130 (1996), since the purpose of the rule was to grant citizenship to the recently freed slaves and the exception for children of foreign diplomats and heads of state shows that Congress does not read the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment literally. If birthright citizenship is not commanded by the Constitution, it can be eliminated by amending the statutory provision that I mentioned.
But closing the loophole that encourages foreigners to come to the United States solely to make their future children U.S. citizens would not address the larger question of birthright citizenship. For undoubtedly most children born in the United States to illegal immigrants are not born to persons whose motive for immigrating was based in whole or significant part on a desire to have U.S. citizen children.
Most countries outside the Western Hemisphere do not recognize birthright citizenship; instead they base citizenship of children on the citizenship of their parents or other lawful connections between the parents and the country (ethnicity or religion, for example). Should we adopt that approach, by constitutional amendment if necessary? (It may not be necessary, as I have suggested, but I take no position on that question.) The problem is that though it would discourage people from coming to the United States for the sole or main purpose of having children who would be U.S. citizens …