In 1895, the U.S. government, egged on by a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, brought a test case in an effort to undermine the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship provision. The Washington Post tells the story.
The 14th amendment says, “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.”
Wong Kim Ark was returning to San Francisco after a visit to China. He was carrying the required certification from white men that he was born in the U.S. and therefore a citizen. But he was denied entry, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Young men like Wong were not called “anchor babies” (the term used by Donald Trump), but rather “accidental citizens,” said University of New Hampshire legal historian Lucy Salyer, “citizens by the accident of birth” as the dissenting justices in Wong Kim Ark’s Supreme Court case would put it.
In the annals of civil rights in America, it was a huge case. The majority opinion, by Justice Horace Gray, reads that history and law
irresistibly lead us to these conclusions: the Fourteenth Amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens ….The Amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born, within the territory of the United States, of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States.
to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.
Had the decision gone the other way, instead of a nation of immigrants, America would have become colonies of foreigners.