For over a century, U.S. law has declared that every child born on American soil is born with the same rights as every other U.S. citizen.
But that right is being challenged.
On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released a series of immigration proposals, including bringing an end to birthright citizenship. This statement in particular is receiving extraordinary media attention — even as a policy idea that’s been dredged up time and again through the years, largely to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment.
For Asian Americans, this is hardly a new issue, and the inflammatory xenophobic language that comprises so many arguments to end birthright citizenship are painfully familiar. After all, the person who brought the question of his citizenship to the Supreme Court in 1897 was Asian American, born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrant parents.
Professor Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and author of the book “The Making of Asian America: A History” offers up a short lesson in the New York Daily News this week, telling the story of Wong Kim Ark, the 24-year-old who insisted he was a U.S. citizen based on his birth as granted by the Fourteenth Amendment.
While this claim seems straightforward today, it was extraordinary for its time. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the first significant legislation passed to keep a specific ethnic group from entering the country and naturalizing, was in effect, and the U.S. government argued that Wong Kim Ark could not be a U.S. citizen because his parents were not and could not become U.S. citizens.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wong Kim Ark. At a time when sentiment against Chinese immigrants was high, this decision in favor of a Chinese-American born on American soil set the precedent that children born in the United States, even to parents not eligible to become citizens, were nonetheless citizens themselves under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This precedent has endured for over 100 years.