Birthright citizenship is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. that predates the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, which officially and legally grants citizenship to any person born on U.S. soil. Today, that includes U.S. territories as well.
The founding fathers didn’t write it into the Constitution, but they believed in birthright citizenship. Alexander Hamilton and Patrick Henry, for example, were supporters of “jus soli.” This Latin term means “right of the soil,” and in the 1700s it was a guiding principle in the British Empire that anyone born on British soil was a British citizen, according to the National Geographic.
Birthright citizenship was already a law in George Washington’s day, and it became an official Amendment less than 100 years after the U.S. became an independent nation. Now, Donald Trump wants to repeal birthright citizenship. That means people born on U.S. soil are no longer automatically American citizens.
So, who can?
Trump hasn’t exactly outlined his plan for citizenship, other than repealing the Amendment, but there are some old laws to fall back on when it comes to the question of American citizenship. Congress passed the Rule of Naturalization in 1790, built on the Latin concept of “jus sanguinis,” or “right of the blood.”
Under this law, children born to American citizens are natural-born citizens. Of course, this law specifically only extended to “free white persons” of “good character,” according to USA Today.
And as for immigration, the founding fathers wrote laws granting citizenship to persons residing in the country for two years or more. It’s not so simple today. The 10-step process involves submitting lots of forms, maintaining a green card for at least five years, being personally interviewed, passing a test, and being of “good moral character,” according to the U.S. federal government website.
Trump has said that the U.S. is the only country that grants birthright citizenship, which is incorrect. Around 30 countries grant this right, including most all of the entire Western Hemisphere. This includes the U.S. (for now), Canada, Mexico, most of South America, and most of Central America.
Birthright citizenship isn’t something that can end overnight. Citizenship that’s already been granted would be all but impossible to take away, which means anyone who is already a birthright citizen would remain a birthright citizen. Their children would, in turn, become U.S. citizens by virtue of having parents who are citizens. This means that birthright citizenship rights would still technically be in effect for generations to come.
However, repealing the Amendment would make it much harder for the children of immigrants to become U.S. citizens, even when they’re born in the U.S.