Birthright Citizenship

The term “birthright citizenship” refers to the current practice of considering children born in the United States to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. This issue is also commonly termed the “anchor baby” issue. These terms describe an issue that is related to and complicates administration of our immigration law because our immigration admission criteria is based so heavily on family relationships and U.S. citizens are able to sponsor extended family members for legal immigration status.

An anchor baby is defined as an offspring of an illegal immigrant or other non-citizen, who under current legal interpretation becomes a United States citizen at birth. These children may instantly qualify for welfare and other state and local benefit programs. Additionally with the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the child may sponsor other family members for entry into the United States when he or she reaches the age of twenty-one (See also Chain Migration). The sheer numbers are staggering. In Stockton, California (2003), 70 percent of the 2,300 babies, born in San Joaquin General Hospital’s maternity ward were anchor babies. 1

Interpreting the 14th Amendment

In Parkland Memorial Hospital Dallas, the second busiest maternity ward in the United States, 70% of the women giving birth were illegal aliens.  That added up to 11,200 babies for which Medicaid kicked in 34.5 million dollars to deliver these babies, the feds another 9.5 million and Dallas taxpayers tossed in 31.3 million.  The average illegal patient is 25 years and giving birth to her second anchor baby.
-Reiniers, John.  Hernando Today, "Anchor Babies." January 25, 2008.

According to the  Constitution's 14th  Amendment, ratified in 1868 to ensure citizenship for the newly emancipated African Americans, "all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." The phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" was intended to exclude from automatic citizenship American-born persons whose allegiance to the United States was incomplete. For example, Native Americans were excluded from American citizenship because of their tribal jurisdiction. Also not subject to American jurisdiction were foreign visitors, ambassadors, consuls, and their babies born here. In the case of illegal aliens, their native country has a claim of allegiance on the child. Therefore, some Constitutional scholars argue that the completeness of the allegiance to the United States is impaired and logically precludes automatic citizenship. However, this issue has never been directly decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Price We Pay

"Make no mistake, Americans are happy to welcome immigrants who follow our immigration laws and see a better life here. America is far more welcoming and tolerant of newcomers than any virtually any nation on earth.  But our modern welfare state creates pervasive incentives for immigrants, incentives that cloud the issue of why people chose to come here. We cannot afford to open our pocketbooks to the rest of the world. We must end the pervasive incentives that encourage immigrants to come here illegally, including the anchor baby incentive.
-Representative Ron Paul, Texas Straight Talk October 02, 2006

The nation's school system faces the economic burden of providing services to the millions of children born to illegal immigrants. In a 2004 United States General Accounting Office report, three states submitted their annual cost estimates of educating illegal children. The estimates provided ranged from 50 million dollars to 87.5 million in Pennsylvania and 932 million to 1.04 billion dollars in Texas.1

FAIR estimates there are about 363,000 children born to illegal aliens each year. This figure is based on the crude birth rate of the total foreign-born population (33 births per 1000) and the size of the illegal alien population (13 million in 2008) adjusted downward to account for the estimate that females are a smaller share of the illegal alien population than the foreign-born population.2

What Does This Mean?

Higher Taxes: The federal government has control over immigration law for the United States. By not correcting this mis-application of the 14th Amendment, the funds that state and local governments must provide to anchor babies amounts to a virtual tax on U.S. citizens to subsidize illegal aliens.

Disrespect for the rule of law: Congress, by failing to act on legislation aimed at correcting the interpretation of citizenship by birth, in effect rewards law-breakers and punishes those who have chosen to follow the rules and immigrate legally.

The original intent of the 14th Amendment was clearly not to facilitate illegal aliens defying U.S. law and obtaining citizenship for their offspring, nor obtaining benefits at taxpayer expense. The United States is unusual in its offer to extend citizenship to anyone born on its soil. Other developed countries have changed their citizenship practice to eliminate the problems caused by the practice of birthright citizenship.1 The anchor baby problem has grown to such large proportions that the United States can no longer afford to ignore it. The logical first step for correcting the problem is for Congress to adopt legislation clarifying the meaning of the 14th amendment.


  1. Serge F. Kovaleski, Young Muslims in Britain Hear Competing Appeals, N.Y. Times, Aug. 29, 2006, at A3.
    Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 2004 (Act No. 38/2004) (Ir.) (limiting grant of citizenship by jus soli to persons with at least one parent who is an Irish or British citizen or who meets certain criteria of residence or right of residence).
  2. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D'Vera Cohen, "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States," Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009.

Updated August 2010