September 27, 2010
By Patricia Smith
Ever since the 14th Amendment was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, it's been largely unquestioned that everyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen.
But, as the national debate over illegal immigration intensifies in an election year, birthright citizenship is being seriously questioned for the first time in almost 150 years.
"This surfaces every once in a while as part of a bigger debate—it's usually more of a fringe discussion," says Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "What's different this time is that people in Congress are talking about it."
The Amendment was adopted in 1868 to ensure the citizenship of American-born former slaves and their children. . .
The U.S. isn't alone in offering birthright citizenship; Canada and most Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico, do so. But it's much less common in Europe and Asia, where citizenship more frequently depends on whether a parent is a citizen.
"Birthright citizenship is particularly characteristic of countries in the 'New World'—settler societies that wanted people to come," notes Caroline Brettell, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
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