Traditionally, every person born in the United States is a US citizen by birthright. Even if a child is born to illegal or undocumented residents of the US, he or she is still considered a US citizen. In fact, Presidents of the United States have to be US citizens by birthright, not by naturalization.
The recent debate about undocumented immigration in the United States has made some people questions birthright citizenship, however, and some have even called to an end of automatic citizenship for all children born in the US. This is because birthright citizenship leads to difficult situations. For example, when two undocumented parents have a child born in the US, the parents remain illegal immigrants while the child is, by rights, a US citizen. As the child cannot sponsor the parents for citizenship in most cases, the parents are subject to deportation while the child enjoys all the privileges of citizenship.
Since the US has an official policy to not try to separate families, birthright citizenship poses a difficult question: what can be done about undocumented parents with US citizen children? Those calling for increased controls over undocumented immigrants argue that birthright encouraged illegal immigration: once undocumented families arrive here and have children, they have a US citizen in the family. This makes pleas for amnesty more plausible, but also does nothing to discourage illegal immigration. Proponents of immigration amnesty argue that it is unfair to continue to declare the parents of a child born in the US as illegal if the child has citizenship status through birthright.
No one seems happy about the situation, but it is clear that the situation occurs often. There are an estimated ten million illegal immigrants in the US at any given time. In many cases, undocumented immigrants remain in the country for many years, often starting families in the US. No one knows exactly how many families have undocumented parents and US citizen children, but it is likely that the situation is quite common. During an immigration discussion at a primary school, First Lady Michelle Obama was surprised to find herself speaking with a young US citizen who admitted that her parents did not have “papers” and were undocumented. The news story sparked even more debate about the problems associated with citizenship by birthright.
Birthright citizenship is granted by the 14th Amendment and was originally intended to ensure that the children of freed slaves had status in the US. However, a new group of legislators are agitating to have birthright citizenship removed and some experts predict that the issue could be brought forward as a new possible law as early as 2011. As of November 2010, a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, including Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, have suggested that getting rid of birthright citizenship should be a top priority.