The issue of birthright citizenship in America emerged during the 2016 presidential campaign with President Donald Trump coming out in support of repealing the 14th Amendment, which states: “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.”
Birthright citizenship, or jus soli (“right of soil”), means that a person is a citizen of the nation they are born in even if their parents are not. In the United States, the first sentence of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is known as the Citizenship Clause. It seems straightforward enough: “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.”
This was written after both the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857—which found that “persons of African descent” were not and could not be citizens, even if they were free—and the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1861. In one broad Constitutional sweep, the Fourteenth Amendment defined those born in the United States, including ex-slaves and children of immigrants, as citizens.
Indeed, the Fourteenth Amendment was put into place as one of three amendments to the United States Constitution after Reconstruction to guarantee full citizenship and the right to vote for former slaves:
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.” One of three amendments passed during the Reconstruction era to abolish slavery and establish civil and legal rights for black Americans, it would become the basis for many landmark Supreme Court decisions over the years.
Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship was widely discussed and debated in 2015, and conservative commentator S.E. Cupp said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on August 23, 2015, that “actually, there are only 30 countries that practice birthright citizenship making the U.S. kind of an anomaly.”
The claim that the U.S. is one of just thirty countries that offers birthright citizenship has been circulating ever since, and it is mostly true. As of 2018, at least 35 countries offer jus soli, and still more make it available on a conditional basis, per Business Insider:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Saint Kits and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United States
United States President Donald Trump revisited the topic on October 30, 2018, when he falsely claimed that the United States is the only country that offers birthright citizenship, and that he plans to change the Constitution by executive order — something that he cannot by law do.