Birthright citizenship is a legal process which allows individuals to receive national citizenship because of the location where they were born. It is a concept that is referred to as jus soli and in the United States, it is applied in a common law manner. Certain exceptions apply, such as children born to foreign diplomats or occupying hostile forces, but the Fourteenth Amendment is quite clear.
If a person is born in the United States or is born overseas to an American parent, then they are a U.S. citizen.
Several countries around the world have restricted or unrestricted jus soli policies as well.
The benefit of birthright citizenship is that it can improve societal diversity. When people know that their children are guaranteed citizenship if they are born in a country with jus soli, then it is an easy way to improve that child’s life. Citizenship provides numerous benefits that cannot be accessed through a temporary visa or illegal immigration.
The disadvantage of birthright citizenship is that it can encourage illegal immigration. As long as one parent can make it across the border and receive medical care for the birth of their child, a documentation trail is created that offers citizenship to the newborn. For the U.S., that would mean a child can be born as an American, even if both parents are in the country illegally.
Here are some additional pros and cons to think about.
List of the Pros of Birthright Citizenship
1. It provides children with security.
The idea of birthright citizenship is to offer security to children who are born somewhere with questionable paperwork. Newborns have no control over the actions of their parents. This process creates a guarantee that a child will have some level of national citizenship they can call their own. Without birthright citizenship, there are circumstances where a child could be born somewhere and have no legal citizenship at all.
2. It reduces the need for social services.
Children born with an automatic citizenship that their parents do not have could create problems for social service programs in each community. Splits in immigrant families are reduced, especially in families that have recently immigrated, because there is an “umbrella” of family rights involved. Without these rights in place, citizen newborns could be taken from parents and placed in foster care because their parents are non-citizens and told to leave.
3. It eliminates the idea of a caste system.
Birthright citizenship is the ultimate form of equality. There are no socioeconomic circumstances associated with this process. Without it, societies would begin to form caste systems. At the top are those who are natural citizens. In the middle are those who could afford to purchase their citizenship. Then, at the bottom, are the immigrants who are allowed to be present, but not allowed to have the right to pursue citizenship. Those in the bottom of any caste system historically struggle to receive basic benefits.
4. It counters political unrest around the world.
Numerous countries on our planet have endured decades of civil unrest, war, and worse. Political changes make it possible for people to become “stateless” through no fault of their own. According to the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 10 million people who have no national citizenship. Without birthright citizenship, millions of children could join the ranks of stateless people since their legal status could be questioned.
5. It supports all children.
If birthright citizenship were repealed, then every parent in that country would be forced to prove the citizenship of their children. That may require a birth certificate, national identification, or some other form of proof. It would also require that country to setup a system of verifying newborn citizenship. That could mean some sort of new registry or identification process, which would have an added cost. A simple mistake could cause children who should be granted citizenship a non-state identity.
6. It provides a clear and simple standard.
There are no qualifications required for children when birthright citizenship is present. No questions must be answered about ethnicity, culture, or status. There are no antecedents toward being a citizen. This eliminates the possibility of a child being victimized by a culture because of who or what their parents happen to be.
List of the Cons of Birthright Citizenship
1. It provides a work-around for immigration laws.
In many nations, a citizen is able to sponsor family members for legal immigration. With birthright citizenship, it becomes possible for parents to enter a country illegally, have a child born who becomes a citizen, and then later have that child sponsor them for a legal immigration process. The concept is called “anchoring” and creates a chain migration process where privileges that would normally not be conveyed are suddenly required.
2. It prevents benefit manipulation.
According to Senator David Vitter in 2015, a child is born in the U.S. every 93 seconds to parents who have a questionable immigration status. Because that child is immediately a U.S. citizen, they are given the financial, social, and legal benefits which come with that status. With up to 400,000 newborns receiving birthright citizenship every year, there are millions of dollars in benefits being awarded that could be used for other purposes.
3. It creates an incentive to break the law.
Birth tourism is a concept which only occurs in countries which have birthright citizenship policies. People may plan to come to a country, even on a legal visa, simply to have a child. Once the child is born and citizenship is conveyed, they return home. Some may do this for a chance at economic opportunities and a better life, but some may do so to cause disruption and harm to others.
4. It is applied in unintended ways.
The goal of many birthright citizenship laws was to create equal citizenship rights for those who were already present in a country. Before the 20th century, global levels of discrimination were quite high. Slavery was legal in most areas of the world. Minorities were placed at a great disadvantage. The goal of birthright citizenship laws was to ensure that future generations, not illegal immigrants, could benefit from the hard work their parents put in to establish a life for their family.
These birthright citizenship pros and cons are just the beginning of the conversation. Some see this idea as an essential component of societal diversity and inclusion. Some see birthright citizenship as a process that creates a cash grab for families who have a long-term vision of circumventing immigration laws. Both sides can point to real-life examples that support their views on this issue.
How do you feel about the idea of birthright citizenship?
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.