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UMass Dartmouth faculty Q&A on possible birthright citizenship executive order


Recently, President Trump indicated that he was preparing an executive order to end birthright citizenship, the concept that being born in the United States makes one a citizen.


The 14th amendment to the Constitution states, “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.”


UMass Dartmouth professors Dr. Lisa Maya Knauer (Sociology & Anthropology), and Dr. Mark Santow (History) were asked to explore the historical context and potential ramifications of such an action.

What was the historical context that caused the Federal government to adopt the 14th Amendment in 1868?

Santow: The birthright citizenship embedded in the 14th amendment is the very keystone of our post-Civil War constitutional order, which recognizes all Americans as civic equals.

The birthright embedded in the amendment was a decisive, clear and intentional move away from citizenship rooted in race that was at the heart of the 1857 Dred Scott decision.


For those of an 'originalist' bent, the intentions of the Congress that passed the amendment were unambiguous: people born in the U.S. are full-fledged American citizens, with all the rights therein. Only Native Americans and the children of foreign diplomats were excluded. 

In many ways, the 14th amendment is the foundation of modern American multiracial democracy.

If the executive order is signed and found legal, what are some implications for the country?

Knauer: This would challenge the citizenship of many people born in the U.S. to parents who were not citizens at the time that their children were born. 

It is not known whether there are plans to limit citizenship to children born to U.S. citizens or, for example, the children of permanent residents or H-1B visa holders.


In either case, this would increase the number of "mixed" immigration status families in this country. 

This could affect many UMassD students and the commonwealth more broadly as there is a high percentage of foreign-born adults in the region, and not all of them were citizens at the time their children were born.

Dr. Lisa Maya Knauer is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at UMass Dartmouth. A Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Knauer research has focused on the Guatemalan immigrant experience.

Dr. Mark Santow is an Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at UMass Dartmouth. Dr. Santow has studied and written about social policy, race, and American cities and contributes to adult education programs in urban 


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