The US Birthright Citizenship

Migration, whether motivated by economic, religious, or political considerations, has become a global phenomena. Most of these migrants lack citizenship paperwork, resulting in complicated systems of interdependence among societies. Conservatives' persistent attempts to construe the 14th Amendment to exclude children born to unauthorized immigrants have sparked heated discussion. Proponents believe that providing free US citizenship to such births has resulted in an increase in the number of immigrants entering the nation to get visas. In retrospect, opponents of these new laws contend that the majority of immigrants coming into the country are not seeking visas for their children, but are motivated by economic concerns. Consequently, instead of having to change the constitution to address such issues, opponents claim that they are alternative channels that can be adopted. The following paper will attempt to develop a case study based on the US Birthright Citizenship, which has become among the most controversial issues in the country. The case study will then be analyzed from a multitude of relevant peer-reviewed journals found in the political communication discourse.

Case Study

After Trump's announcement of his candidacy in June 2016, the issue of immigration served as the pillar of his campaign. Among his core reasons for reforming the current US immigration system include boosting the American workforce amidst stiff competition arising from foreigners. In his original policy paper released during the campaign, Trump listed several plans aimed at reforming the illegal and legal immigration system. These included building a wall on the border separating Mexico from America, tripling the existing numbers of Immigration officials and ending the US birthright citizenship (CBS News, 2015). Despite the high level of criticism that accompanied those strategies, Trump defended himself by claiming that the substantial number of foreigners greatly increased the levels of unemployment in the country.

Though most of his plans were centered on combating illegal immigration, the policy to bringing an end to the longstanding birthright citizenship has sparked nation-wide debates. According to the 14th Amendment, all individuals that are either naturalized or born in the U.S. are considered citizens of this country. Though the legislation also gives citizenship to children that are born from parents living in the country legally, scholars continue to debate whether the Clause settles the issue of children that are born in the country to illegal immigrants. In an article published in January, the Washington Post reported that one of the tools that Trump would be using to push forward his legislative agenda would be through executive orders (2017). According to the news agency, the president had begun signing executive orders to allow the construction of the wall on the US-Mexican wall, where it is anticipated that similar techniques would be applied to alter birthright citizenship policies.

Eliminating birthright citizenship would result in the deportation of over 16 million individuals that include about 11 million undocumented immigrants and over 4.5 million children that are born of undocumented immigrants (Politici Fact, 2016). Using data collected from Rasmussen organization in 2011, Trump claimed that over 65 of US voters were against birthright citizenship, which contradicts CBS News polls, which indicated 47 percent (CBS News, 2015). The president claims that giving automatic US citizenship to children born of undocumented immigrants acts as a magnet for illegal immigration by creating "chain migrations" from other direct family members (WP, 2017).

Patterns of Representation: Problems and Controversies

However, Trump's strategies have also been receiving mixed reactions and representation from various news channels across the country. Among the most consistent issues that have been recognized by most media sources include his recent appointees to lead the immigration policies. In what Rewire News (2017) refers to as "Immigration Extremists," the news agency condemns two recent hires, who they claim are renowned critics of current immigration policies. Jon Feere who was recently hired as an advisor to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was working for Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which is a prominent anti-immigrant and hate group.

Another hire that the article has widely criticized is Julie Kirchner, who is expected to act as an advisor for the Customs and Border Protection. She is well known for her executive role in the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which is another hate group that poses as a legitimate immigration commentator. Hiring right-winged, xenophobic and racist advisors to lead Trump's immigration policies has attracted huge criticism, thus questioning the credibility of these individuals. The Talking point Memo (TPM, 2017) also refers to these new hires as "unlikely choices," who despite their anti-immigrant views, have still been selected to provide assistance to immigrants seeking U.S. Citizenship. In particular, the news agency quotes xenophobic comments made by executives in these groups that claim that the country's future lies in a majority "European-American population." The article further underscores that such appointments erode the trust and confidence in the Department of Homeland security (DHS), which was originally created to act as an independent department.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, the Washington Post (2017) refers to the anticipated new hires as ‘advocates,' who are focused on ending the citizenship by birthright policy. In the post, Feere's articles have only been referred as opinion pieces that propose the enactment of added restrictions to existing immigration policies. The author has also justified President Trump use of executive orders to drive the proposed legislations, claiming that such actions were legitimized by former President, Barrack Obama. By criticizing former employees from the Bush administration, the article further endorses Feere's views that such appointees from CIS and FAIR think-tanks are policy driven. The post further refers to the rise of children from undocumented immigrants as a "birth tourism" phenomenon, arguing that government intervention is mandated.

The Atlantic (2017), CBS News (2015) and Politici Fact (2016) however, take a projected approach to objectively question President Trump's goals in ending birthright citizenship. They begin by quoting the historical significance of the establishment of the 14th Amendment to America's Constitution. CBS News (2015) article, in particular, quotes that the legislation was established to guarantee the citizenship of former slaves, superseding the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court ruling that claimed slaves were not US citizens. By drawing comments from experienced law researchers, the article claims that bringing an end to birthright citizenship would also necessitate passing an amendment to alter the Constitution. Since such an action requires a two-thirds majority win in both houses, one of the interviews claimed that it would be an impossible political goal. The 14th Amendment was further defended in 1898, when the court ruled that Wong Kim Ark was a US citizen by birth, despite having been born of parents of Chinese descent.

Politici Fact (2016) has also questioned Trump's inconsistency regarding his particular stand on Birthright citizenship. Throughout his campaign speeches, he insisted that illegal immigrants would have to go back to their home countries and apply for visas legally. However, in his current interviews, he has been quoted saying that they all have to be rounded-up and deported in a humane manner. The Atlantic (2017) reiterates that such a move would provide Trump's administration with a lot of power that could consequently erode America's cherished status to immigrants. Furthermore, refusing to assimilate such children will lead to detachment from this country, where most of them will grow without having a sense of belonging. Nevertheless, CBS News (2015) highlight that each year, different lawmakers have tried to introduce legislations that seek to deny the automatic US citizenship to children that are born from illegal immigrants. Besides stirring up prolonged public debates, most of these bills end up failing. Therefore, based on the significance of the 14th Amendment, Trump's legislation may fail to go through.

Analyzing the Case Study through Relevant Peer-reviewed Journals

Based on increased rates of globalization, citizens across the world are struggling to reaffirm their identity and uniqueness. The interconnectedness of global citizenry has been accompanied by concerted government efforts to reaffirm the integrity of physical borders with neighboring countries. Consequently, this has blurred the lines between the definition of a citizen and a non-citizen in the context of drafting immigration policies. In the political discourse, also, candidates are defining their positions in relation to undocumented immigration and birthright citizen laws. This is an extremely important inquiry since it questions and profoundly impacts on our notions of citizenship and sovereignty. The following section will aim to analyze the case in the context of published peer-reviewed journals in the discipline of political communication.

In his article, Kemp (2012), heavily critiques the conservative rhetoric that has been adopted to attack birthright citizenship as stated in the 14th Amendment. He claims that such an attack greatly violates the traditional intent that it was originally drafted for, and thus calling for a retrospective analysis of conservatives' allegiance to their current beliefs. Though the author admits that the immigration problem in the U.S. is real, he also reiterates that the increased opposition to birthright citizenship from conservatives is against their values. Conversely, Wood (1998) takes a more rigid approach towards existing birthright citizenship policies. He highlights that one of the core factors that should inspire change is political determination. With existing policies, America's political and democratic system will be greatly undermined and the ability of citizens to guide their own future eroded. In areas with high populations of illegal immigrants that give birth to children with US citizenship, such groups will gain the power to outvote the majority opinion of Native Americans.

Wood (1998) further claims that the issue of illegal immigration is an entirely new concept that did not exist during the drafting of the Amendment in the mid-1860s. He terms it as an ambiguous Clause when compared to the recent phenomenon, which includes the rise in the number of illegal migrants each year. If Congress fails to amend the policies, Wood (1998) warns that increased illegal immigrants may influence the composition of the Constitution's Preamble, from "We the People of the United States" to: "We the People." Consistent with Wood's claims, Eastman (2005) highlights the historical and political dilemma that surrounds the Clause. He provides case scenarios of contradictory rulings that judges have given over the years on almost similar cases to highlight the challenges underpinning the 14th Amendment. In retrospect, he claims that the Courts have intruded on the plenary authority that is assigned to Congress.

Conversely, Stocks (2012) adopts a neutral approach to the subject by critically assessing views from both sides. He highlights that most individuals who advocate for amendments to the Citizenship Clause seek to address prevailing concerns. Firstly, they argue that by changing the current birthright citizenship, the country will be able to discourage illegal immigration. Often, America's generous treatment of newborns drives immigration by rewarding parents that have broken existing migration policies. Despite these arguments, the author challenges the logic surrounding them, questioning whether they are enough to alter the long-standing constitutional rules. In retrospect, he argues that most illegal immigrants in the country are driven by economic factors and the human desire to reunite with their relatives. Shachar and Hirschl (2007) offer an entirely new perspective that allows us to examine the justification of privileges that arise from birthright, but comparing it with inherited property. By drawing the similarities and differences that accompany these two phenomena, the authors are able to present the inequalities existing from such entitlements. However, Shachar and Hirschl (2007) claim that unlike other inherited material privileges, birthright citizenship also requires that they also participate in the improvement of life to enjoy such a privilege.

Contrary to popular beliefs that claim that most of the immigrants cross the country to seek birthright citizenship, Stocks (2012) further insists that most parents do not benefit from the citizenship that their child acquires. If parents of the newborn are found to have crossed the country illegally, they must follow the set procedure to secure an immigration visa. It is only under few circumstances that a parent may benefit from a child's US citizenship, which occurs when the child is over 21 years and has secured middle-class income levels. Most parents, therefore, fail to meet such criteria, where they may be barred from the U.S. for more than a decade. Consequently, rather than having to change the entire Clause for the purpose of deterring parents coming to have babies in the country, Stocks (2012) insists that Congress can make it illegal to enter the country to have a child.

Unlike any other peer-reviewed article in this analysis, Franz (2015) has been able to incorporate the role of media and politics, to deconstruct how the concepts of national love and fear are adopted to influence perceptions of ‘alien citizens.' Based on themes from the "economy of emotion" theory, the author aims to assess how the concept is used to shape the perception of illegal immigrants' children as ‘alien citizens.' He claims that emotions play a critical role in delineating national imagination and inspiring anti-immigration rhetoric in America. By using figures and animations that advocate for anti-birthright citizenship that separate ‘real citizens from ‘alien citizens,’ an economy of emotion is materialized within the mother and son. The article also provides a case scenario of the impacts that arise from the representation of ‘alien citizens' as unlovable, and also as objects of fear. This naturalizes the imperative for ‘real citizens' to defend against ‘alien citizens' and ‘terrorists-citizens' that would conspire to harm America. Politicians and the popular media, in particular, have played a critical role in merging ‘anchor babies' and ‘citizen terror' concepts to associate birthright citizenship as terrorists.

Benhabib (2017) article analyzes how increased immigration experienced in the world has complicated the definition of a citizenship and establishment of migration policies. He further spotlights on how these factors impact on the global poor, and thus questioning their legality and morality. The author has also drawn a contradiction between the increased rate of migrations across borders and its perceived impacts on eroding state sovereignty, while simultaneously asserting it. Additionally, while this phenomenon has also made national borders more porous, national borders are still maintained by heavy security to protect countries from aliens. Though globalization has waned old political structures, Benhabib (2017) warns that new political institutions that drive for a global world are approaching.

Media, Emotional politics, and Shaping Anti-Birthright Citizenship

Franz (2015) article has been able to illuminate on the relationship between the media's use of emotional politics to misrepresent birthright citizens from illegal immigrants. By using the themes of love and fear, popular media is able to create the notion of ‘alien citizens.' Often, these figures are presented as lovable and thus represented as fit for societal inclusion or unloving, hence feared and requiring repudiation. The development of ‘alien citizens,' and ‘real citizens' figures through incorporating concepts of fear and love leads to the emergence of boundaries that define what should and should not be acceptable citizenship. Additionally, the author also underscores that the ‘sexualization' and racialization of America's love and hate by utilizing emotional politics further expound on the imaginative boundaries of citizenship and illegality.

Construction of Race, Aliens and ‘Alien Citizens'

Consistent with Franz's (2015) claim of the use of emotional politics to construction the meaning of ‘alien citizens,' Cisneros (2013) has tried to expound on how normalized power operates for the conception of immigration, race, citizenship, maternity and sexuality. Over time, these issues have historically been framed to shape the representation of an ‘alien body.' In particular, ‘racist normalizing power' has shaped the ‘alien' concept as a threatening and pervasive body. Though ‘alien' has been depicted as a neutral theme, regulatory powers have altered the meaning of maternal reproductive alien, to represent threats to the well-being of the country. Consequently, the ‘alien' theme is associated with themes of ‘anti-citizen,' and thus contrasting with the concepts of ‘virtuous citizens.'


Evidently, the media's use of descriptive language in the construction of immigrant parents and ‘alien children' has played a critical role in shaping the current perception of immigration and US birthright citizenship. In the political discourse, also, candidates are defining their positions in relation to the issues of undocumented immigration and birthright citizen laws. This has been an extremely debated inquiry that has questioned the historical significance of the 14th Amendment and the meaning of citizenship. Nevertheless, current conservatives advocating for the amendment of the Citizenship Clause seek to address prevailing concerns. This is based on the view that by changing the current birthright citizenship policies, the country will be able to discourage illegal immigration. However, opponents have reiterated that this may erode the country's culture and morals since the legislation could amount to immense economic, political and social consequences.


Benhabib, S. (2013). Birthright citizenship, immigration, and global poverty. University of Toronto Law Journal, 63(3), 496-510.

CBS News. Is it possible to end Birthright Citizenship? Accessed online from

Cisneros, N. (2013). “Alien” Sexuality: Race, Maternity, and Citizenship. Hypatia, 28(2), 290-306.

Eastman, J. C. (2005). Born in the USA? Rethinking Birthright Citizenship in the Wake of 9/11.

Kamp, A. R. (2012). The Birthright Citizenship Controversy: A Study of Conservative Substance and Rhetoric, 18 Tex. Hisp. JL & Pol'y 49 (2012).

Politi Fact. (2016). Tim Kaine said Trump ticket wants to deport 16 million, end birthright citizenship. Accessed online from

Rewire News (2017). More Immigration Extremists Enter Trump Administration.. Accessed online from:

Shachar, A., & Hirschl, R. (2007). Citizenship as inherited property. Political Theory, 35(3), 253-287.

Stock, M. D. (2012). Is Birthright Citizenship Good for America. Cato J., 32, 139.

The Atlantic. (2017). Will the Supreme Court Defend Citizenship? Accessed online from

The Washington Post. (2017). Advocate of ending U.S. birthright citizenship may be joining Trump administration. Accessed online from

Talking Points Memo (TPM). (2017). Meet The Anti-Immigrant Crusader Trump Admin Tapped To Assist Immigrants. Accessed online from

Wood, C. (1998). Losing control of America's future--the census, birthright citizenship, and illegal aliens. Harv. JL & Pub. Pol'y, 22, 465.

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