Despite budget woes of historic proportions, this spring the Arizona Legislature has taken its attention from serious issues involving the funding of education and health care for the poor to consider other bills targeting undocumented migrants. Illustratively, two companion bills were drafted to challenge the long-standing interpretation of the fourteenth amendment, which provides so-called “birthright citizenship.”
“Birthright citizenship” is a phrase that refers to the acquisition of U.S. citizenship by virtue of one’s birth, as contrasted to acquisition of citizenship by naturalization after birth. It is important to note that there are actually two different types of birthright citizenship. One can attain birthright citizenship by jus soli or jus sanguinis.
The latter term (jus sanguinis) refers to the bestowing of citizenship by being born to a parent who is American. If a person is born and at least one of his/her parents was an American citizen, then that person is also given U.S. citizenship, regardless of where they are born.
The former term (jus soli) refers to the granting of citizenship to anyone born in the territory of the United States. Even if neither parent is American (i.e., such that jus sanguinis is not possible), a child born in the United States will be a U.S. citizen. If a non-American woman gives birth on U.S. soil while on vacation or while working or studying here temporarily, her child is granted American citizenship. That has historically been the case regardless of the mother’s immigration status.
Though the recent Arizona legislation had been described as attacking “birthright citizenship,” to be clear, the proposed bills would only have challenged the interpretation of the fourteenth amendment granting citizenship via jus soli. The bills were not in any way challenging the practice of jus sanguinis, which is technically another form of birthright citizenship.
It is interesting to understand the approach to citizenship taken in other countries. Most countries emphasize jus sanguinis because racial or ethnic identity is considered to be a critical means of establishing national identity. Indeed, jus soli is relatively uncommon in the world. Currently, less than 20% of the countries in the world grant citizenship under the concept of jus soli. The United States is the largest exception to this rule. Most of the other countries on that list are in North or South America. One’s family can live for generations in some European countries, for example, without ever being granted citizenship.
To me, it makes sense and is a source of pride that the United States is one of the primary examples of jus solis citizenship. With the exception of native Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. We may come from many different places of origin, but once we’re here, we’re supposed to all be on the same footing. The links below contain some news coverage of the recent failed attempt by the Arizona legislature to challenge the long-standing interpretation of the fourteenth amendment:
"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”