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What Is Birthright Citizenship?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Just one week before the election, President Trump said he can change what it means to be born in America. In an interview with Axios, he says wants to challenge birthright citizenship, which has been part of the United States Constitution for 150 years.

So, what is birthright citizenship? Good Question.

It's the principle that anyone born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen. The right was written into the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1868 after the Supreme Court had ruled that people of African descent, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens.

"The birthright citizenship clause was put into the 14th Amendment as a way of overruling the Dred Scott decision," says Jill Hasday, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Minnesota. "They were not focused on questions of legal or illegal immigration, they were focused on African-American citizenship."

It reads "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State where in they reside."

In 2014, 275,000 babies were born to undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to Pew Research, which is about 7-percent of all birth in the U.S. that year. That's down from 370,000 in 2007, when those births accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. births.

According to World Atlas, 30 other countries also offer birthright citizenship. All of them are in the Western hemisphere, including Canada and Mexico. The U.K., Australia and India used to offer birthright citizenship, but have removed the right within the past 50 years.

Many constitutional law experts believe an executive order alone would not change how birthright citizenship is applied in the U.S.

According to a 1995 opinion issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger wrote, "Because the rule of citizenship acquired by birth within the United States is the law of the Constitution, it cannot be changed through legislation, but only by amending the Constitution."

"The question is, is the executive order consistent with the 14th Amendment," says Hasday. "I think it's very hard to predict the future, but I will say that to date there has been pretty strong clear consensus that the birthright citizenship clause really clearly establishes that if you're born in the United States, you're a citizen in the United States."

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