OPINION

Birthright Citizenship Is a Pillar of Democracy

By Hayley Fleming '21 || Issue 148-10

The 14th Amendment 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.” The idea presented here, that anyone born in the United States is a citizen, is known as birthright citizenship. Countless people have become American citizens thanks to the 14th Amendment, and this is what makes our country welcoming and and our culture vibrant.


In an Axios interview on Oct. 30, President Donald Trump revealed a plan to sign an executive order that would end birthright citizenship, meaning that the children of undocumented immigrants or of people with temporary visas would not automatically become citizens. The president and his supporters claim that the specific language of the 14th Amendment has never been ruled on by the Supreme Court, and that the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” does not necessarily mean anyone on U.S. soil.


The last time the Supreme Court ruled on a similar matter was in 1898, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. This case took place in the midst of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited almost all people of Chinese descent from immigrating to the United States. Ark was born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants. At age 22, he briefly left the country to go to China, but upon his return to California, he was denied entry and told that he was not a citizen. However, the court agreed with Wong on the basis of the 14th Amendment. This amendment, they argued, applied to every child born on U.S. soil, regardless of race or parentage.


Trump’s proposal is unconstitutional, and he cannot make a change to the Constitution through an executive order. But even if it were legal, it would still be a bad idea. Here’s why.


The president should not take away the citizenship of countless people through an executive order. A change of that magnitude, especially one regarding something as important as citizenship, should be decided by Congress, which is more representative of the American people. Congress is larger, more diverse and more closely connected to the American people, simply because each member of Congress represents fewer people than the president does. A president who lost the popular vote, should not make a decision this consequential without getting congressional approval.


More than 30 countries around the world offer birthright citizenship. The United States should set an example for human rights, acceptance and inclusion. If so many countries around the world offer citizenship to the children of immigrants, and it reverses this policy, the United States will be painted as a harsh, unwelcoming environment for immigrants. This will hurt our international standing and our ability to lead by example. The United States could never encourage other states to treat immigrants with kindness and acceptance if the United States itself does not treat immigrants with respect. This inability to lead by example is even more impossible now that the migrants seeking asylum at the southern border were greeted with tear gas. If this pattern of disrespect and hatred continues, it will be on track to lose its status as a leader in freedom and acceptance.


Most importantly, this policy contradicts our most fundamental American values. The United States is a nation built by immigrants, and we should be a beacon of openness and inclusion for the rest of the world. Some of us here at Amherst are children of immigrants and may be American citizens thanks to birthright citizenship. The people who benefit from birthright citizenship are just as American as any other American citizen. They were born in the United States, they contribute to our rich and diverse culture and they deserve the full protection of our constitution. A United States without birthright citizenship is a United States without diversity.