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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Birthright Citizenship

The 14th Amendment says: "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."

Columnist George Will writes of the issue of birthright citizenship, citing a piece by legal scholar Lino Graglia:
Writing in the Texas Review of Law and Politics, Graglia says this irrationality is rooted in a misunderstanding of the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." What was this intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.
In 1995, Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger made a different argument in congressional testimony:

As the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment makes clear, the definitions of citizenship contained in both were intended to codify the common law and overrule Dred Scott's denial of citizenship to persons of African descent. Thus, with the three limited exceptions already noted and the additional exception of tribal Indians, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all persons born in the United States, including children born to aliens.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provides that "all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States." 1866 Act, § 1, 14 Stat. at 27. During the debates on the Act, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee stated that the provision defining citizenship is "merely declaratory of what the law now is," and he cited, among other authorities, a quotation from William Rawle, whose constitutional law treatise was one of the most widely respected antebellum works: "Every person born within the United States, its Territories, or districts, whether the parents are citizens or aliens, is a natural-born citizen in the sense of the Constitution, and entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining to that capacity.