Throughout recent U.S. presidential administrations, the topic of immigration demonstrates a continuing tug-of-war between Republicans advocating border control and Democrats pleading for human rights for minority groups. This debate recently surfaced in President Trump’s executive order (October 2018) to end birthright citizenship in an attempt to surpass the authority of the Fourteenth Amendment (Davis, 2018). This amendment acknowledges citizenship and its accompanying rights. While the language of this amendment is clear, it can be difficult to apply in today’s current climate, for instance, with the fate of U.S. children who have undocumented parents facing the threat of deportation. Ultimately, the Fourteenth Amendment should further define the implications of what it means to be a citizen. In this way, equal rights would be afforded to the proper individuals and keep families together without unauthorized or illegal immigrants taking advantage of government resources.
I. History of the Fourteenth Amendment/ Related Policies
In arguing for a law to expand upon the Fourteenth Amendment, the history and status of current U.S. citizenship as it relates to immigration provides an important foundation for future change. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, negating the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) decision that ruled African Americans were not U.S. citizens (Kernell, Jacobson, Kousser, & Vavreck, 2018, p.362). The Fourteenth Amendment establishes that all individuals born or naturalized in the United States are considered citizens (Kernell et al., 2018, p.134). Further, section one of this amendment states these individuals’ rights of life, liberty, and property cannot be taken without “due process of law” nor can they be denied “within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Kernell et al., 2018, p.134).
Although this amendment went unquestioned for many years, the European immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s and eventually, the Asian immigration after WWII required clearer understanding of citizenship. Initially, in 1917, the first barriers to immigration included a literacy test for individuals over sixteen, tax increases for new immigrants, and the exclusion of anyone at immigration officials’ discretion (Office of the Historian, n.d.a). This paved the way for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 that granted only a select number of visas (via a quota system) to “three percent of the total population of the foreign-born of each nationality in the United States…” (Office of the Historian, n.d.a). This was eventually lowered from three percent to two percent and also excluded immigrants from Asia among other discriminations/biases (Office of the Historian, n.d.a). Ultimately, this act was to be further amended in the years to come.
In 1952, the revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act still enforced the quota system but eliminated the exclusion of Asians (although it was still discriminatory toward them) (Office of the Historian, n.d.b, para. 5). The act made it possible for the husbands of American citizens to obtain non-quota status, created labor certifications so that immigrants did not compete with American workers, and offered preferences for those with special skills or who had U.S. resident families (Office of the Historian n.d.b, para. 6).
There appeared to be the beginnings of growing tension between those advocating for more liberalized immigration and those desiring tighter restrictions for national security (Office of the Historian n.d.b, para. 2). Eventually, citizenship and immigration grew more complex, as questions arose regarding citizenship of foreign-born children with American parents. In the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (sections 320 and 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act), foreign children that have at least one naturalized U.S. parent whose child is under 18 and has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen are automatically granted citizenship and are entitled to expedited naturalization (U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, n.d.).
Currently, there are no provisions in place that allow children born in the United States to reside with their undocumented parents in the states without the threat of deportation and elimination of their citizen rights. According to Ilona Bray, J.D. (n.d.), children born to undocumented immigrants have no more rights than their parents. Children are unable to help their parents immigrate until the child turns 21 and even then, there are difficulties in obtaining a green card through the child (Bray, n.d.). Consequently, the long history and policies of citizenship qualifications would make it difficult for President Trump to change the Fourteenth Amendment, however, these ambiguities need addressed so as not to strip away rights.
II. Why The Fourteenth Amendment Needs Supplementary Policies
At the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, there were not many immigrants seeking citizenship. However, data suggests the significant increase in recent years. According to the American Immigration Council (2018), 4.1 million U.S. citizen children under 18 live with at least one undocumented parent, while 5.9 million children have an undocumented family member. According to Radford and Budiman (2018), the foreign-born population in the United States went from 2.2 million in the 1850s and grew to 43.7 million in 2016. Immigrants from Europe/Canada made up most of the immigrant population in the 1960s at 84 percent and have since declined to 13 percent in 2016.
In contrast, the Mexican and South/East Asia populations have grown from around four percent in the 1960s to around 26 percent in 2016 (Radford & Budiman, 2018). Among the immigrants in the U.S., many undocumented illegals have made a living for themselves with roughly eight million in the workforce (Krogstad, Passel, & Cohn, 2017). Some immigrants have been living in the United States for at least a decade (Krogstad, Passel, & Cohn, 2017). Ultimately, this poses concerns that these populations are making a living without having to pay taxes required of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, within the Trump presidency, there are debates as to how much money illegal immigrants are costing taxpayers in terms of resources and what threat or danger they pose to U.S. citizens.
In order to safeguard rights to blended families of both U.S. citizen and non-citizen status, it would be beneficial to build upon the Fourteenth Amendment to reflect the current times. Therefore, while those born on U.S. territory should not be denied citizens’ rights, the Fourteenth Amendment should also grant rights of citizenship to foreign individuals under the stipulation that they a.) reside in the United States for five years prior to having a child and show proof that they are seeking political asylum and are b.) in the process of becoming a naturalized American citizen. Further, they must provide proof that they are contributing to the U.S. economy in providing at least two legitimate tax returns. Consequently, this may lessen the administrative burden on immigration bureaus, councils, and organizations, while also relieving family units from the threat of separation.
III. Impact of This Reform on Society
With regard to advancing human rights, this change will have the largest impact on peoples’ personal wellbeing. For instance, doctors and health providers have witnessed symptoms of “toxic-stress” from fearing a family member’s deportation (Richards, 2017). A study from 2013 to 2015 revealed higher rates of PTSD symptoms among Latino citizen children who “had at least one detained or deported parent” (American Immigration Council, n.d.).
Thus, those in the process of becoming naturalized will make for healthier, happier citizens. Moreover, those who become citizens and live in the United States for significant number of years will increase the diversity of those in state and federal congressional positions that provide a voice for people just like them. On a broader level, the United States may bolster its position on the world stage. Although the current state of foreign relations remains questionable, this supplementary law may show other nations that the U.S. is holding steadfast to its naturalization policies but looking more favorably on immigrant families that have made livelihoods for themselves in the states. Overall, this supplementary provision to the Fourteenth Amendment can loosen the reigns on harsh treatment of immigrants, while ensuring that everyone is accounted for in the grand scope of national resources and security.
IV. Congress Would Likely Ratify this Amendment
After the recent midterm election, Congress has gained new democratic representatives who look more favorably on immigration; however, this bill would appeal to both sides’ collective action problems on this issue. On the one hand, those with more conservative ideologies may liken to the bill because immigrants must meet the qualifications mentioned or face deportation. These qualifications ensure immigrants are paying taxes and contributing to the economy. Moreover, through the citizenship process, background checks would allow the government to better identify anyone who may be a potential threat. This still shows the United States has a hand in immigration and the power to follow through with the consequences for those who do not follow policies.
On the other hand, those with liberal ideologies will support helping immigrants become naturalized citizens without separating families. Hence, facilitating the path to citizenship may make immigrants less scared to speak up about injustices they face. Currently, undocumented immigrants experiencing human rights issues may refrain from speaking up because of the threat of deportation. Therefore, as long as foreign individuals meet the qualifications, they can receive due justice in lieu of discrimination just as any authorized citizen. Furthermore, immigrants who become citizens and reside in the U.S. for several years have the opportunity to diversify Congress and vote on a variety of future bills that aid people like them. Ultimately, granting rights during the naturalization process make a positive incentive for immigrants to seek citizenship than live illegally.
After the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, many laws and reforms have since passed with regard to regulating citizenship status as it relates to immigration. Through the Immigration and Nationality Acts and the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the evolution of immigration reform from literacy tests to quotas to granting foreign children citizenship have expanded on the language outlined in the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the Fourteenth Amendment does not specify rights for children born in the U.S. with undocumented parents. This proposed law supports families of foreign and national origins if they meet qualifications showing they have lived in the U.S. for five years prior to having a child or show proof that they are seeking political asylum. They must also confirm they are seeking to become naturalized American citizens and present two legitimate tax returns. Ultimately, this change should appease both sides of the political spectrum, impacting the overall wellbeing of individuals, foreign relations and future congressional positions as well as support fairer national security policies.
- American Immigration Council. (2018, May 23). U.S. citizen children impacted by immigration
- enforcement [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/us-citizen-children-impacted-immigration-enforcement.
- Bray, I. (n.d.) Can the child of an undocumented immigrant become a U.S. citizen. Retrieved
- from https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/can-child-undocumented-immigrant-become-citizen.html.
- Davis, J.H. (2018, October 30). President wants to use executive order to end birthright
- citizenship. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/us/politics/trump-birthright-citizenship.html.
- Kernell, S., Jacobson, G.C., Kousser, T. and Vavreck, L. (2018). The logic of American politics.
- Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Krogstad, J.M., Passel, J.S., and Cohn, D. (2018, Apr. 27). 5 facts about illegal immigration in
- the U.S. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/27/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/.
- Office of the Historian. (n.d.a). The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924. Retrieved from
- Office of the Historian. (n.d.b). The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Retrieved from
- Radford, J., and Budiman, A. (2018, Sept. 14). Facts on U.S. immigrants, 2016. Retrieved from
- Richards, S.E. (2017, Mar. 22). How fear of deportation puts stress on families. The Atlantic.
- Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2017/03/deportation-stress/520008/.
- U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. (n.d.). Child Citizenship Act of 2000 –
- Sections 320 and 322 of the INA. Retrieved from