Is Birthright Citizenship Good for America?

20 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2013

See all articles by Margaret D. Stock

Margaret D. Stock

United States Military Academy, West Point

Date Written: January 15, 2012


The Declaration of Independence famously asserted that “all men are created equal,” but this assertion did not become an American constitutional reality until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause — intended to overturn the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott (1857) case — states that “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.” Traditionally, the clause has been interpreted to confer U.S. citizenship on anyone born within the United States whose parents are subject to U.S. civil and criminal laws — which has historically meant that only babies born in the United States to diplomats, invading armies, or within certain sovereign Native American tribes have been excluded from birthright American citizenship. Alarmed by the thought that unauthorized immigrants, wealthy tourists, and temporary workers are giving birth to thousands of U.S. citizens, some want to change the long-standing rule by reinterpreting or amending the Citizenship Clause. But will this proposed change be good for America? Will it benefit America to reduce substantially the number of birthright U.S. citizens — and put in place more complex rules that would provide that U.S.-born babies are not created equal?

Keywords: U.S. Citizenship Requirements, Citizenship Clause, Jus sanguinis, citizenship by blood, immigration policy, illegal immigration, immigration reform

JEL Classification: K37

Suggested Citation

Stock, Margaret D., Is Birthright Citizenship Good for America? (January 15, 2012). Cato Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Margaret D. Stock (Contact Author)

United States Military Academy, West Point ( email )

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