Ever since the post-Civil War adoption of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, all persons born on American soil have been automatically granted citizenship. This policy was common sense in the era it was adopted, a time when international travel was cumbersome and relatively rare, but today its wisdom is being questioned. Is birthright citizenship being abused by people who want to short-circuit America’s labyrinthine immigration law?
The Citizenship Clause of 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.”
From the moment it was adopted, this clause has motivated foreigners to give birth in America. For many years the number of these birth-tourists were limited by the nature of travel, but in today’s world, where air travel drastically cuts down the time it takes to get from one country to another, the path to citizenship guaranteed by the 14th Amendment is well-trod.
Stories abound of pregnant women visiting the U.S. on tourist visas who stay long enough to have their children, get American birth certificates and passports for them, then go back to their native countries, American tot in tow. The Chinese film industry even made a popular romantic comedy about the practice.
Having a child that is an American citizen does not, however, guarantee that the child will grow up in America, or allow the family of the child to stay in this country indefinitely. Unless the parents have legal status in the United States, the entire family must return to their home country. It is not until an American-born baby is 21 that they are able to come to the United States and stay without being in school or having to show that they have a legal guardian here.
Once they reach the age of majority, the birthright citizen can enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, and can even sponsor his or her parents’ applications for citizenship. It is important to remember that having an American-born child is a way to short-cut the system, but will likely take at least 21 years to capitalize on the investment.. In most cases applying for citizenship through other means will be just as fast.