Most countries agree with Trump about birthright citizenship

Most countries agree with Trump about birthright citizenship
© Getty Images

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' MORE said recently that, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits.”

He’s wrong. According to the CIA World Factbook, 39 countries have birthright citizenship.

But the rest of the 195 countries (80 per cent) base citizenship at birth on the nationality or resident status of the child’s parents.

ADVERTISEMENT

Perhaps Trump should have said instead that the United States and Canada are the only two developed countries that have it, and Canada is in the process of deciding whether to stop using it.

Why have most of the countries in the world rejected birthright citizenship?

Part of the answer can be found in the fact that almost all of the countries that have birthright citizenship are in the Americas.

According to John Skrentny, a prominent sociology professor, the European countries that colonized the Americas established lenient naturalization laws here in order to grow and overpower native populations. 

The main drawback of birthright citizenship is that it gives up a country’s sovereign right to decide who will become a citizen by birth. With some exceptions, anyone born in the country’s territory automatically becomes a citizen. This is why the United Kingdom (UK) terminated birthright citizenship.

The UK’s Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1968 limited the right of entry which previously had been enjoyed by Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, to those born there or who had at least one parent or grandparent born there. This addressed concern that up to 200,000 Kenyan Asians fleeing Kenya's "Africanization" policy would migrate to the UK. 

The Thatcher Government consolidated this change by eliminating birthright citizenship for children born in the UK on or after January 1, 1983 with the passage of the British Nationality Act of 1981.

Thatcher expressed the sentiment behind these actions two years earlier in the following remarks when she was running for Prime Minister:

"Well now...there was a committee which looked at it and said that if we went on as we are then by the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here.  Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in."

A child born in the UK after the cutoff date does not automatically receive British citizenship unless one of the child’s parents has British citizenship or settled status, which means permission to remain indefinitely.

Few Americans would applaud the UK for giving up birthright citizenship on that basis, but many Americans might approve of Ireland’s reasons for doing it.

Ireland abolished birthright citizenship for births on or after January 1, 2005, with a referendum vote to amend its Constitution. Seventy-nine percent of the electorate voted for it.

The objective of this constitutional amendment was to bring Irish law in line with the rest of the European Union (EU) and to stop birth tourism. Women were coming to Ireland to have their babies because birth in Ireland would make them Irish citizens, which carried EU citizenship with it. According to the Irish Minister for Health, birth tourism was the reason why Ireland’s national health system’s maternity facilities were so stretched, though that is disputed.

Canada may follow in Ireland’s footsteps.

Canada’s Conservative Party introduced a resolution to end support of birthright citizenship in its party platform, which passed with a near margin. The main objective of their proposal is to end birth tourism. Non-Canadian women fly to Canada to give birth in order to secure Canadian citizenship for their babies.

Birth tourism has led to more than two dozen private “baby houses” being set up to accommodate pregnant woman from China. Their babies made up 22.1 percent of all newborns in fiscal 2017 at one of the hospitals where the practice is soaring.

Sometimes the care can be quite expensive. Yan Xia, a visitor from China, had a baby in Canada.  Her baby needed months of medical treatment at the hospital. Yan left without paying her hospital bill, which, with interest, was roughly $922,000.

Birth tourism happens in the United States too. Pregnant women come here from Russia and China to have their babies here to make them United States citizens and then return to their own countries.

The fact that so many countries have rejected birthright citizenship doesn’t justify giving it up, but it does warrant taking a closer look at the practice.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.