What is Birthright Citizenship?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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Birthright citizenship, also known as jus soli gives the right of nationality to any person born within the bounds of a territory. In some cases, this may include births in territorial waters and even nationally owned airspace. Birthright citizenship is a widely adopted practice worldwide, but has led to considerable controversy over immigration practices.

The practices of birthright citizenship means that a person need only be born in a country to achieve permanent citizenship as a member of that country. This is in contrast to other practices, such as jus sanguinis or the right of blood, which means that a person must be the child of a citizen to achieve citizenship. Many modern countries operate with a mixture of the two practices, granting citizenship or legal residence to those born in the country, but also permitting those with qualifying parents or grandparents to register as citizens.

The United States has held the practice of birthright citizenship in high esteem since nearly the inception of the nation. Influenced by earlier English law, several US Supreme Court cases carefully linked the ideas of birthright and allegiance, including United States v. Rhodes in 1866, and United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898. Another important factor in United States law regarding jus soli is the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that a citizen is a person “born or naturalized” in the United States.


Not all countries have always adopted birthright citizenship. Germany, for instance, operated on a strict basis of parental citizenship until 2000. Much of Europe, with the exception of France, tended in the past to rely more on the statutes of jus sanguinis rather than birthright to determine citizenship. In the 21st century, many European countries do allow citizenship to be conferred on children both born and raised entirely within the territory, once they have reached adulthood.

The recent controversy over birthright citizenship revolves around using the birth of a child to secure legal residence for parents or family members. If, for instance, a child is born on US soil, he or she is a US citizen even if his or her parents and siblings are not. There have been numerous attempts in the US congress to deny citizenship to the children of illegal aliens, as critics of jus soli suggest that the 14th amendment did not intend to include those who had entered the country though illegal means. As of 2010, no such revocation has come close to becoming law, but some suggest that the issue may take more precedence in the future.


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A pregnant illegal wades across the Rio Grande into the U.S. from Mexico where she has a baby. She eventually gets caught and she and her child are shipped back to Mexico, even though under current U.S. law, the child is a U.S. citizen.

A U.S. citizen soldier and his pregnant U.S. citizen wife are stationed in Germany where she has their baby.

Which offspring can be elected president or vice-president in the U.S.? The answer hinges on what your interpretation of 'natural born' means.

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