Birthright citizenship, often referred to as “jus soli” which means “right of the soil” in Latin, is a policy by which individuals are granted citizenship of a country simply by being born within its territorial boundaries, irrespective of the citizenship or immigration status of their parents. In the United States, birthright citizenship is a foundational principle enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s demographics, sense of identity, and commitment to civil rights. To fully understand this concept, it’s vital to delve into its historical context, implications, and the ongoing debates surrounding it.
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, states, “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 amendment was adopted in the aftermath of the American Civil War as a direct response to the infamous and shameful Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the Supreme Court ruled that African Americans could not be considered U.S. citizens. The 14th Amendment thus served as a powerful repudiation of that ruling, ensuring that all individuals born in the U.S., especially the formerly enslaved, were granted the rights and privileges of citizenship.