Born in the USA Means Automatic Citizenship – But Is That Smart?

A reader from New Hampshire wrote to ask, “Why, just because you are born here, are you an American citizen? I know the history of this law but it is out of date and just encourages more illegal immigration.” Well, I cannot argue with that.

The reader, who goes by the handle Rocheleau, expressed displeasure with the practice that automatically awards all babies born on American soil a certificate of U.S. citizenship. “Just because you are born in a garage,” Rocheleau wrote, “does not make you a car.” That may be an odd analogy but I take the reader’s point.

The answer is simple. So-called “birthplace citizenship” in America is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The pertinent section, written in 1868, reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

It’s common knowledge among illegal immigrants and foreigners holding U.S. travel visas that if their baby is born in America that child will be granted automatic citizenship.  Many who have entered the country illegally also believe their child’s status gives them an advantage toward winning their own U.S. citizenship someday. For some that has already happened, but the current administration has indicated they don’t like the practice.  During the presidential campaign Donald Trump made it clear he wants to do away with citizenship for newborns born to foreign nationals.

Estimates are rough, but it is widely believed that at least 300,000 babies are born here each year to parents who broke the law entering the United States. Of that group about 70% are of Latin American descent. Then, there are at least 36,000 more babies born here every year to so-called “birth tourist” mothers who are mainly from China but from other Asian countries and Russia as well.  This latter group entered the U.S. with legal travel visas and hope that if the situation in their homelands become unbearable they can use their child’s status as an American citizen to come back.

An official of U.S. Immigration and Customs, asked if there is a way to circumvent this says, “There is nothing in the law that makes it illegal for pregnant women to enter the United States.”

Interesting to note:  expectant mothers from Russia seem to prefer to go to Florida or New Jersey to wait out their final months of pregnancy.  Moms from China often choose California or Washington State. They probably pick those destinations because in each location a whole cottage industry has cropped up – from birth hotels with nearby shopping centers catering to their culture to financial institutions staffed with employees who speak their language – making mom’s time away from home less jarring.

Like reader Rocheleau, there are many prominent politicians who would like to change this automatic citizenship system, but it’s tricky.  Legislators know that in this super-charged political atmosphere whoever gets behind the idea of tinkering with the 14th Amendment runs the risk of being labeled a racist. That Amendment, like the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that came before it, was adopted to give citizenship rights to American-born slaves.

It’s important to mention that most countries do not follow the U.S. policy. No European country grants infants citizenship. Only Canada and a few African, Central and South American countries have a system similar to the United States.

Why Give Babies Automatic Citizenship? Because It is Set Forth in the U.S. Constitution That’s Why

Politicians in favor of doing away with automatic citizenship for babies born here are split on how to achieve their goal. Some think they can change things by simply passing legislation. Others say that would trigger an immediate and lengthy court challenge and that if one wants to change the U.S. Constitution that would require agreement of 2/3rds of the states. Again, in this hyper-tense Democrats vs. Republicans era, that seems as likely as President Trump giving up Twitter.

So, what kind of difference would it make if the 300,000+ new Americans born here each year were denied citizenship? Would that even put a dent in the impact illegal immigrants have already had on this country?

I have no definitive answers except to say I don’t want to encourage any more people to enter our country illegally.  I acknowledge the contribution immigrants have made – and continue to make – to the very foundation of the United States. My ancestors came here from Ireland at the end of the last century. I get it. But unlawful entries and residencies have put an enormous strain on our taxpayer funded hospitals, schools and public welfare programs.

The time is long past for “leaders” in Washington to do what they promised to do – enact meaningful, humane reforms for our flawed immigration system. Let’s face it. These babies wouldn’t – couldn’t – be born here if we had a handle on who enters our country.  Fix the big problem and the secondary baby-citizenship problem takes care of itself.



  1. Diane Dimond on June 26, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Facebook Friend Joya Colucci Lord writes:

    Great article (as usual). Many of my American military friends had children while stationed overseas. Their children were not considered German citizens (unless one parent was German); they were automatically natural American citizens and eligible, therefore, for all the rights and privileges of being a natural-born American citizen, up to and including becoming President. Why should it be any different if a child is born to foreigners in the US? It might be different for legal green card holders, here legally and awaiting eligibility for citizenship, but shouldn’t be automatic for those here illegally or on tourist visas.

  2. Diane Dimond on June 26, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Should we change citizenship for babies rule? No!

    Fixing our immigration, problem requires two steps:
    First, streamline the process for coming and remaining here using biometric identification technology.
    Second, impose stiff fines for living within our borders “illegally.” I.e., collect a fine of $1,000 per week for unauthorized presence within out borders.

    Our federal and local law enforcement officer must be given an incentive to play on the same team. Fines should be split 50-50 between federal and state law enforcement agencies / judicial systems to encourage and reward cooperative elimination of “illegals.”

    Immigrants who’ve come here and become productive neighbors must have rapid access to legal residency. They are already a part of our economy, so the numbers are irrelevant. It should take no more than 30 days for individuals to bed vetted and approved for legal residency. The proposed fines should be waived during that 30 day period, but become a rigidly enforced penalty for those who don’t comply with registration. Pay up or leave with no exceptions.

    Our Secretary of State should lead the effort to negotiate vetting agreements with our neighbors to the north as well as the south, as well as all nations of origin of those who wish to come here. All should be put on notice that those who arrive here without proper vetting will be deported to the capitals of those nations. Establishment of such agreements should have the highest priority.

    What about the babies? Accept and raise them as patriotic American citizens. Sadly, this may mean automatically separating mom’s from kids at birth. But the tie between citizen kids and moms who come here in hope of legal residency or citizenship must be broken. Foreign born children cannot be allowed to come here with the baggage of their pregnant moms. That $1,000 per week penalty must be imposed to discourage attempts to arrive and remain within our borders.

    Our nation must regain control of our borders. Of course we should be compassionate to our foreign born neighbors, but we cannot leave floodgates open to floods of potential enemies. Immigration reform must be treated as a national security issue whose resolution deserve a very high priority by those who represent us in our federal and state legislatures.

    I very much appreciate your efforts to raise issues such as this. You’re a great journalist. Keep up your good work!

    Paul Burnett
    Los Lunas, NM (aka Land of Enchantment)=

  3. Diane Dimond on June 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Creators Syndicate Reader cogcan writes:

    A child of an illegal is a citizen of their parents country and according to drafter of amendment
    During the debate over the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he argued for including the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction

    [The 14th amendment] will not, of course, include persons born in the
    United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of
    ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the government of the
    United States, but will include every other class of person.[2]

  4. Diane Dimond on June 26, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Facebook Friend Cliff Darnell writes:

    Our culture is complex, I,I,I …..We are a shallow bunch if you listen to the media as it accentuates our differences. Immigration is not the problem it’s economics. Immigration is easily solved in this corporate cold world oddity of America:Issue visas to work for “x”amount of time. if that person fails to make “y” amount of dollars in that “x”time the visas are revoked.
    Charge a higher “social tax “to Employers who employ the foreign born.
    The truth is we have a phoney economy,if we don’t grow or spend spend spend the whole enchilada falls apart.Consequently we as Americans are easily misdirected…”Take the pie away…just not my piece of it “

  5. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Twitter follower CherteapetCherteapet@Cherteapet writes:

    I’ve brought this up 4 yrs! Thank you, you’ll probably affect change where I never could The Chinese have regular programs, for it

  6. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Twitter follower Estella Vidal@estellaines

    It is not okay.// doesn’t it encourage undocumented people to have babies and in the process obtain some legality for themselves?

  7. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Twitter Follower rjthomas37rhonda thomas@rjthomas37 writes:

    The hell that is a republican Indiana. but my ancestors were from Ireland and we weren’t wanted here either

  8. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Twitter Follower rjthomas37rhonda thomas@rjthomas37 writes:

    And just exactly where did you come from?

    • Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      My ancestors came from Ireland via Nova Scotia and they ultimately settled – LEGALLY – in North Dakota, at the Canadian border. LEGALLY. ~ DD

  9. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Twitter Follower SunriseSunset7Sunrise Sunset@SunriseSunset7:

    NO and not JUST no, but HE— NO~!

  10. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Twitter Follower sarahsarah elizabeth k@sidebar_sarah writes:

    Good article Diane, can’t sum it up in 140 or less. Our country is so divided on every issue. Turning to food network for peace & quiet

  11. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Twitter Follower smidge9099Rosann@smidge9099

    Not ok with me.They put their children in same line of fire they put themselves,not fair to kids.come to this country the right way too bad.

  12. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Twitter Follower estellainesEstella Vidal@estellaines

    If the parents don’t have documents the babies are also illegal

    • Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Nope. Not the case, Estellaines. An illegal immigrant can come to America, have a baby here and that child is automatically an American citizen. ~ DD

  13. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Twitter Follower vvertelvickie vertel@vvertel writes:

    I don’t understand how the parents can stay just because their child is a citizen. Deport the parents, take the child.

    • Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Its all in the column, Vvertelvickie. The right is guaranteed under our US Constitution ~ DD

  14. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Twitter Follower tutablupeopleoverprofit@tutablu writes:

    We get dual citizenship from other countries we are born in. Stop this nonsense, this is America, or at least it was.

    • Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Actually, that is not true Tutablue. Take for example a member of our military whose baby is delivered, say, in Afghanistan or England or Japan. The baby is not a citizen of THAT country but remains a U.S. citizen. ~ DD

      • Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:59 pm

        peopleoverprofit@tutablu replies to DD:

        Well ok you win this one. But I am not against immigration. I love the difference diversity makes in our lives.

  15. Diane Dimond on June 28, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Twitter Follower Liz120711Lizzie@Liz120711 writes:

    The hospital Medicaid program pays for the birth in addition to giving mom and baby medicaid for 1 year.

Leave a Comment