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Born in the USA: The Politics of Birthright Citizenship in Historical Perspective

Born in the USA
TBA
Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 9:00 AM to Friday, March 30, 2012 - 5:00 PM

An interdisciplinary group of prominent academics, lawyers, jurists, journalists, and political figures will assemble in College Park for the Center for the History of the New America's first major conference.

The goal of this conference is to place in historical perspective the current debate as to whether the United States ought to reconsider birthright citizenship, which grants automatic citizenship to most persons born on the soil of the United States. Birthright citizenship is part of the Constitution, having been put there by the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868. It has given the United States one of the most liberal citizenship regimes in the world, and it has helped to build America's reputation as a land of immigrants, where anyone can come to seek opportunity, liberty, and equality in a regime of laws that does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or national origins.

As with many issues regarding immigration, the debate sometimes proceeds with a lot of passion and without a strong knowledge of history. Here are some questions that would benefit from a robust exploration: First, how aware were the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment about the immigration question? To the extent to which they were, what were their thoughts about immigration and birthright citizenship? What do we know of the original intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment's citizenship clause? Second, why did the Supreme Court in 1898 uphold birthright citizenship for the children of non-citizens? And why in some cases were Native Americans treated differently with regard to birthright citizenship? Third, how well or how poorly did birthright citizenship work for America, in regards both to legal and illegal immigration, over the course of American history after 1868? On balance, has birthright citizenship been a source of cohesion or discord, of Americanization or cultural balkanization, in American life? Fourth, from the contemporary perspective, what evidence can be marshaled to show that illegal immigrants today are motivated to come by the promise of birthright citizenship for their children? And, finally, what would be the consequences to the Constitution, to personal liberties, and to immigration of a successful effort to remove birthright citizenship from the Fourteenth Amendment?

Pulitzer Prize Winner Eric Foner of Columbia University will open the conference with a keynote address. 

For more information, please contact Ira Berlin or visit the Center for the History of the New America

Click here for full announcement poster.