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Citizenship not based on mother


JULY 7, 2010

Citizenship not based on mother

The following Letter to the Editor by Managing Attorney Mark Heller (ABLE) appeared July 7, 2010 in The Toledo Blade. Read below, or view the article on the Blade's website.

Contrary to the July 2 Readers' Forum letter "Mother's country decides citizens," a mother's country does not decide the citizenship of newborn babies.

The only persons born in the United States who are not citizens of the United States — because they are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction — are babies born to foreign diplomats and foreign occupying armed forces.
 

The following Letter to the Editor by Managing Attorney Mark Heller (ABLE) appeared July 7, 2010 in The Toledo Blade. Read below, or view the article on the Blade's website.

Citizenship not based on mother

Contrary to the July 2 Readers' Forum letter "Mother's country decides citizens," a mother's country does not decide the citizenship of newborn babies.

The only persons born in the United States who are not citizens of the United States — because they are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction — are babies born to foreign diplomats and foreign occupying armed forces.

The 14th Amendment's reference to the acquisition of citizenship by birth in the United States was placed in the amendment because of the 1856 Dred Scott decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves were not U.S. citizens.

The acquisition of citizenship by birth in a country is common — it's called citizenship by soil. Some countries do define citizenship by relationship; this is called citizenship by blood.

The United States has both, because some children born outside the United States can acquire U.S. citizenship based on one or both of their parents being U.S. citizens. Citizenship by birth operates as a uniting factor.

Many of the problems in Western European countries in recent years between citizens and immigrants stem from members of the immigrant community remaining outsiders and "others" because persons born in a European country aren't citizens.

This is true for generations of people because they never achieve citizenship, even though they've often never been to their parents' home country.

The U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed all of these understandings in rulings since the 14th Amendment's enactment.

Mark Heller
Managing Attorney
Migrant Farmworker and Immigration Program
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc.