• Immigration and Birthright Citizenship

    Wong Kim Ark and the 14th Amendment

Updated August 21, 2019

Reuters news reports that President Trump is, once again, questioning the idea of birthright citizenship. They report:

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his administration was seriously looking at ending the right of citizenship for U.S.-born children of noncitizens and people who immigrated to the United States illegally.

“We’re looking at that very seriously, birthright citizenship, where you have a baby on our land, you walk over the border, have a baby – congratulations, the baby is now a U.S. citizen. … It’s frankly ridiculous,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

It isn’t the first time Trump has spoken about birthright citizenship. October 30, 2018, Axios, a U.S. online news organization, released an interview with President Donald Trump in which he explained that his team is working on an executive order to change the rules for citizenship in this country. An excerpt of the interview is below:

Legally, citizenship in the United States is granted to children born in the United States and U.S. territories. This is called Jus Soli, or the right of the soil in Latin. That right is rooted in the first section of the  14th Amendment to the United States Constitution which reads,

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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Wong Kim Ark

The legal right to birthright citizenship was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of The United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898. Wong Kim Ark was born in the U.S. and had traveled to China several times. In 1894, when he was returning from one of those visits, he was denied entry to the U.S. on the grounds that he was not a citizen. Ruling in his favor, Supreme Court Justice Gray explained, “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.”

This episode of the podcast, what Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law, explores the Ark case and the debates over the 14th Admendment. It is embedded below:

Since the Ark case, it has been understood that people born in the U.S. are citizens of the country. However, there are contrasting visions of citizenship around the world. Those include the idea of jus sanguinis or the right of blood. In practice, Jus Sanguinis often means that citizenship is determined not by your place of birth, but by the citizenship of your parents.

For additional information on Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis citizenship follow this link.

For additional background on birthright citizenship in the US and around the world, follow this link to a BBC explainer.

We will update this collection as this story unfolds.

Teaching ideas:

What’s Below the surface?

  • Create an iceberg diagram to help students recognize what is below the surface of the proposal to eliminate birthright citizenship. If the proposal is above the water, what ideas, attitudes, and events are below the surface?
  • Ask students to consider the definition of citizen. What is the difference between a resident of a country and a citizen?
  • What does the President’s proposal suggest about his view of who is an “American”? How do you think about who can be an American? What do you think people need to do to be an American?
  • Consider the differences between Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis notions of citizenship. What do they say about the identity and values of a nation? As you listen to the President, which idea of citizenship seems closer to his proposal?
  • Have students watch the short video about Wong Kim Ark and read the text of the supreme court decision that affirmed birthright citizenship in the United States. Have students underline key phrases of the text that explain the court’s decision. You might ask students which phrases most resonate with them? Which do they see as most important? What would students want to ask Justice Gray, the author of the opinion?
  • Consider asking students to reflect on the changes and continuities between 1898, when the ruling was issued, and today. What similarities do they notice? What differences feel most impost?
  • To conclude the conversation, consider using Project Zero’s Three-Why’s Thinking Routine. Ask:
  1.  Why does this matter to me?
  2. Why does it matter to my community?
  3. Why does it matter to the world?

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