From Cradle to Limbo: The Immediate and Long-term Dangers of Repealing Birthright Citizenship for Children

Bruce Lesley
Voices4Kids
Published in
5 min readNov 10, 2023

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Birthright citizenship, enshrined by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, has stood as a pillar of inclusivity since its ratification in 1868. It reads:

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.

The 155-year-old Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment rectified the deplorable Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in 1857, which deprived U.S.-born children of African-Americans of U.S. citizenship. The 14th Amendment clarifies that every child born in the U.S. is a citizen, regardless of their heritage.

In the Supreme Court decision Wong Kim Ark in 1968, the Court affirmed this commitment to equality by ensuring that the children of immigrants born in the U.S. also receive citizenship and that those decisions would no longer be subjected to the prejudices or biases of the time.

Unfortunately, prominent presidential candidates like Donald J. Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy have advocated for the repeal of birthright citizenship. In Ramaswamy’s case, he is a beneficiary of birthright citizenship, as he was born before his mother obtained U.S. citizenship (his father never has). His stance seems to convey: “Birthright citizenship for me but not for thee.”

In Haley’s case, she argues, “For the 5 million people who’ve entered our country illegally, I am against birthright citizenship.” However, adults coming here have never qualified for birthright citizenship. Thus, the policy suggests penalizing children for the choices of their parents.

Such an approach is inherently flawed. Punishing children for their parents’ actions defies both logic and ethical values. It would be akin to issuing a traffic citation or fine to a passenger for a driver’s speeding violation. That would be both unfair and counterproductive. Similarly, it is inconceivable that we would fault a child, who has no say in the circumstances of their birth, and impose the grave penalty and condition of statelessness upon them.

The fact is that the abolition of birthright citizenship would not affect the citizenship of adults. The negative consequences would apply to just one group: BABIES AND CHILDREN.

The Curse of Statelessness

The babies and children in this country are already facing enormous challenges and to further put many of them at enormous risk of legal, social, and economic harm, deserves attention. If we are to uphold the tenets of responsible governance and social justice in our democracy, it is vital that we fully understand the far-reaching consequences that repealing birthright citizenship could have on future generations, including even those who are not the children of immigrants.

First, repealing the Citizenship Clause threatens to thrust children into a condition of legal limbo or statelessness where they may have no country to call home, and therefore, no guaranteed access to essential services like health care, education, nutrition, or opportunity for success.

As photographer and author Greg Constantine explains:

In so many ways, children are the most silent and invisible victims of statelessness. And without a doubt, children have the most to lose by statelessness as well. They represent futures denied. Potential denied. A wealth of amazing contributions to society denied…

All children deserve a future.

The Waiting Game: Immediate Consequences of Citizenship Verification Delays

One often-overlooked aspect of repealing birthright citizenship is the administrative quagmire it would create. With birthright citizenship, the process is straightforward: a child born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen, entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with that status. However, if birthright citizenship were repealed, there would be added layers of bureaucratic red tape to the very act of being born and cause tragic delays of days or months in access to health care coverage, nutritional services, child care, and other vital services.

For example, during the crucial first days and months of life, the health care system plays an integral role in a child’s well-being. Babies require developmental screenings, a series of immunizations, and regular check-ups. However, due to delayed citizenship determinations and bureaucracy red tape, many children would be denied access to coverage and care. This jeopardizes not only their immediate well-being but could have long-term implications.

Similarly, programs aimed at combating childhood malnutrition, like WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), would become inaccessible. Again, nutritional deficiencies in the early stages of life can lead to developmental delays, lower immunity, and lifelong health problems.

Moreover, one cannot ignore the psychological ramifications of statelessness on children. A sense of belonging and identity is critical to all human beings, but particularly so for children. Being stateless can create a perpetual identity crisis, making children more susceptible to psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. The absence of a national identity could, therefore, stunt the emotional and psychological growth and well-being of a child, affecting their ability to contribute meaningfully to society.

Repeal’s Political Consequences: A Contradiction of Democracy

Aside from the immediate human impact, we must also consider the political implications. A democratic society is built upon the principles of equality, justice, and inclusiveness. The repeal of birthright citizenship stands in stark contrast to these ideals. In essence, it would recreate a multi-tiered society, one where your rights and access to resources are not determined by your contributions or needs but by the circumstances of your birth or the politics and prejudices of the moment.

Our nation’s history underscores this lesson, with figures like Frederick Douglass explaining the importance of citizenship:

By birth, we are American citizens; by the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are American citizens; within the meaning of the United States Constitution, we are American citizens; by the facts of history, and the admissions of American statesmen, we are American citizens; by the hardships and trials endured; by the courage and fidelity displayed by our ancestors in defending the liberties and in achieving the independence of our land, we are American citizens.

“All Children Deserve a Future”

Children deserve our help and support — not additional obstacles and barriers to having an opportunity to be successful in life. Repealing birthright citizenship would result in unwarranted discrimination against them.

Denying citizenship to children born on U.S. soil would create an underclass of citizens subject to constitutionally sanctioned discrimination and social exclusion. This is the last thing that children in this country need.

We must ask ourselves, are we willing to risk a generation’s health, education, and psychological well-being for a policy change that contradicts the very ideals our nation was built upon? The responsibility lies with us, as policymakers, advocates, and citizens, to consider the needs and rights of our children.

Furthermore, it is in our collective best interest to uphold the equality and liberty enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment by ensuring that all children born and raised in the United States are able to achieve their full potential and contribute to our nation’s future.

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Bruce Lesley
Voices4Kids

@BruceLesley — President of @First_Focus & @Campaign4Kids. Child advocate, husband & father of 4. Basketball fanatic. Follow on Twitter: @BruceLesley.