Giving squalling infants membership in the polity: Whose idea was that, anyway?
It’s a natural question to ask, now that Donald Trump’s proposal to scrap what he calls “birthright citizenship,” or what others call Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, has become a major point of contention in the 2016 election.
The Republican frontrunner’s assertion that the United States is “just about” the only country “stupid enough” to grant citizenship to all children born within its borders is easily proven false. Far from a scarlet letter of perversion, the U.S. policy is more like a badge of membership in the Western Hemisphere, where nearly all countries adhere to a version of the principle, a commonality some scholars argue is a legacy of colonial pro-immigration policies in the New World.
But the term “birthright citizenship” is also misleading. There are actually two common types of birthright citizenship in the modern world, and both are incorporated into U.S. policy. Trump and those who agree with him apparently only object to one of them.
You can be born into U.S. citizenship by being born in the United States—the principle known as jus soli, or “right of the soil.” Most countries in the Americas feature jus soli citizenship. And you can also be born into U.S. citizenship by being born to U.S. citizens, even if you’re born abroad—a concept known as jus sanguinis, or “right of blood.” “Roman law,” said University of Michigan law and classics professor Bruce Frier, “was very distinctly in the jus sanguinis category.” The policy has also frequently been incorporated into modern European states, emphasizing membership in the nation through parentage.