The 112th Congress has yet to start, and already certain Republican legislators are making promises to end birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of immigrants. Over the past few months, we were hopeful that the call for a repeal of the 14th Amendment was slipping off Congressional radar. However, with a freshly empowered post-election GOP, the issue of birthright citizenship has resurfaced with a vengeance, and we’re rightfully concerned—not just for the children of immigrants, but for all children born in the United States.

To give you a better sense of how the law is interpreted today, let’s start with a brief history lesson. Ratified by Congress in 1868, the first section of the 14th Amendment, also known as the Citizenship Clause within the U.S. Constitution, states that “all persons born or naturalized” in the United States are considered citizens. At the time, the Citizenship Clause within the 14th Amendment reversed the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision which had previously denied citizenship to all U.S. born children of slaves. Nearly 30 years later in 1898, the language of the Citizenship Clause was tested again in the Supreme Court, United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The court’s ruling in Wong Kim Ark concluded that children of immigrants born on U.S. soil were also entitled to citizenship under the 14th Amendment.

As you can see, both American history and legal interpretation demonstrate that the 14th amendment has been an important facet to safeguarding civil rights, and a beacon of hope against past and present discrimination against children of color. Any type of repeal of birthright citizenship would actually mark the first time that the U.S. Constitution was amended to limit civil rights rather than to protect them. With that said, none of this has stopped local and federal legislators from attempting to do so. Currently there are 15 states that have announced plans or legislation to deny citizenship to children of immigrants.

Something that isn’t talked about regularly when it comes to the potential repeal of the 14th Amendment is the widespread effects that it will have on all families, not just those of undocumented immigrants. Currently, a U.S. birth certificate is the most common document used to prove one’s citizenship. However, because the U.S. does not have a national registry of all citizens, all American families would need to navigate a complex system in order to prove their child’s citizenship. Considering that 13 million adults have trouble producing sufficient proof of their citizenship, there is no doubt that this would be a particularly challenging process for all families.

Ultimately, by upholding the protections to our children’s inalienable rights within the 14th Amendment we can ensure the all children born and raised within the United Sates can achieve their full potential. To allow any policymaker to dismantle these protections is not only backwardly minded, but would be detrimental to all children in families across our nation.

For a more detailed look at the 14th Amendment and children’s rights we encourage you to read our new fact sheet: “All Children Born Equal: Preserving Birthright Citizenship for America’s Children”. Additionally, visit both the Immigration Policy Center and Migration Policy Institute for further resources on this issue.