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What Is 'Birthright Citizenship'?

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on August 16, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The current proposals to end birthright citizenship are in the headlines based on the argument that illegal citizens are coming into United States borders in order to give birth, and have their children become automatic U.S. citizens. Putting an end to birthright citizenship would require amending the Constitution, which is no easy task -- especially for such a hot button immigration issue. 

But what exactly is birthright citizenship and how does it operate differently than other modes of gaining citizenship in the U.S.? Put simply, birthright citizenship is the process of gaining citizenship by virtue of being born on U.S. soil. It does not require that the parents of the child be citizens of the country, and the only paperwork involved is the birth certificate. This privilege also extends to those children born in certain U.S. territories. The one exception to this form of citizenship is for children born to foreign diplomats while visiting the U.S.

Citizenship by Birthright

Unless the child voluntarily decides to relinquish citizenship (by filing an oath of renunciation), then he or she is a citizen for life. This lucky timing is perhaps the easiest way to become a citizen other than being born to U.S. parents. Compared to naturalization, a process that involves applications, exams, and sometimes a very lengthy waiting period, acquiring citizenship by birth is really that simple.

Citizenship on a jus soli basis is relatively rare in other countries, an argument that many opponents of the source of citizenship argue as justification for tightening the immigration reigns in our own borders. As a U.S. citizen, an individual enjoys many rights that are not available to non-citizens (in many cases, the children have more rights than their alien parents), this includes: voting, holding public office, and traveling.

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