The majority of U.S. citizens obtained their citizenship through birth. While people born in foreign countries most often obtain citizenship through naturalization, overall, most people are born into their U.S. citizenship.
In most cases, birthright citizenship is clear. When a person is born to United States citizens on U.S. soil, they are granted automatic citizenship. However, other cases of birthright citizenship can be more complex. We can help you understand everything you need to know about birthright citizenship in the United States.
What Is Birthright Citizenship?
Birthright citizenship is the concept of gaining citizenship to a country by either being born on that country’s soil or being born to citizens of that country. In the United States, birthright citizenship can be granted to those born within the United States or its territories or to those who are born to U.S. citizens in another part of the world.
United States birthright citizenship was established in the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
How Is Birthright Citizenship Obtained?
Birthright citizenship can be obtained in two different ways. The legal names for the ways you can get citizenship are jus soli and jus sanguinis.
Jus soli is the right to citizenship through birth within the borders of the United States or its territories. Jus soli has been a part of our legal system for centuries but has come under recent attack over children of non-resident aliens being granted citizenship while their parents were in the country unlawfully.
However, jus soli remains an essential right of anyone born within the U.S. or its territories. There are some exceptions to jus soli. For example, if you were born in the United States to parents who are subject to a foreign power, such as diplomats, you will not automatically be granted U.S. citizenship.
Likewise, children born to sovereign Native American tribes are also exempt from automatic citizenship. While most United States territories are included under this law, those born in American Samoa are not granted automatic citizenship.
Jus sanguinis is the right to U.S. citizenship through birth to United States citizens while in a foreign country. There are requirements that parents must meet for their children to be granted automatic U.S. birthright citizenship.
For example, if both your parents are U.S. citizens, they must have been married at the time you were born, and at least one of them must have lived in the United States at some point prior to your birth.
If only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth, the marriage requirement holds, but the amount of time your U.S. citizen parents spent in the country also counts.
For instance, if you were born before November 14th, 1986, your U.S. citizen parent must have spent as much as 10 years in the United States with at least five of those years coming after your parent’s 14th birthday.
14th Amendment Birthright Citizenship
The 14th Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. Birthright citizenship is guaranteed under the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, which provides an expanded definition of U.S. citizenship to include African Americans after the U.S. Civil War.
Birthright Citizenship Act
The Birthright Citizenship Act of 2021 is the latest attempt to overturn the longstanding jus soli birthright citizenship rules. Under this act, the children of parents unlawfully in the United States would not be granted citizenship through birthright.
The attack on the citizenship rights of certain people born under jus soli birthright citizenship has been an ongoing battle for several years.
During the presidency of Donald Trump, he announced that he was considering an executive order to alter the 14th Amendment removing birthright citizenship for certain children born in the United States. However, since presidents do not have the authority to change the Constitution through executive orders, this turned out to be an empty threat.
Pros & Cons of Birthright Citizenship
The pros and cons of birthright citizenship will vary depending on who you ask. Some people view birthright citizenship as essential to protect the rights of every child. Others view birthright citizenship as a tool that can easily be manipulated for personal gain. The truth is that birthright citizenship is just like every single other legal process: an imperfect system.
Pros of Birthright Citizenship
Those in favor of birthright citizenship in its current form will tell you that this form of citizenship will argue that birthright citizenship helps ensure equal rights for all children, no matter the status or actions of their parents. Additionally, it helps prevent children from joining the roughly 10 million people worldwide who are without any form of citizenship.
Cons of Birthright Citizenship
Those against birthright citizenship will argue that it creates paths for people to illegally obtain rights and benefits within the United States.
Birthright Citizen Requirements
To gain birthright citizenship through jus soli, a person must have been born in the United States or one of its territories (excluding American Samoa). Jus soli also grants citizenship to children born in U.S. waters or airspace. Children of parents who belong to sovereign Native American tribes or whose parents are diplomats or otherwise subject to a foreign power.
To gain citizenship through jus sanguinis, a person must be born outside of the United States to at least one parent with U.S. citizenship. If both parents have U.S. citizenship and were married when the child was born, the child will obtain birthright citizenship as long as at least one of the parents has spent time in the United States prior to the child’s birth.
If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, they must have spent either five or 10 years in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth, depending on if the child was born before November 14, 1986, or on or after. If born before, the parent must have spent at least 10 years in the U.S., with five coming after they turned 14. Otherwise, those numbers change to five years total and two years after age 14.
Future of Birthright Citizenship
Despite the continuing challenges to birthright citizenship, its protections under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution remain strong. The move to make changes to 14th Amendment originates within the anti-immigration section of the Republican party.
However, even within the party, it is a highly divisive issue and does not have overwhelming support. Additionally, public support for birthright citizenship is high, with over 60% of Americans in favor of retaining birthright citizenship. While the threat of a change to these laws will likely remain, it seems unlikely that changes will be made anytime soon.
Get Help if You Need to Prove Your Birthright Citizenship
For most people who obtain citizenship through birthright, there is never any real question about their right to citizenship. However, for those born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents or born to citizen parents abroad, there may be certain hoops you have to jump through. At ImmigrationDirect, we can help you fill out all the necessary paperwork to prove your U.S. birthright citizenship status.