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Q&A: 14th Amendment of US Constitution

FILE - U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner holds up a copy of the U.S. Constitution before reading a passage from the 14th Amendment at the Newseum in Washington, May 25, 2011.

The U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment automatically guarantees the right of citizenship to anyone born on American soil, even if the child's parents are in the U.S. illegally.

That guarantee, referred to as birthright citizenship, has become a hot topic among the 2016 presidential contenders after Donald Trump said he would end it for the children of undocumented migrants.

What does the 14th Amendment state?

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

When was it passed by Congress?

June 1866

When was it ratified by the states?

July 1868

What was the purpose behind it?

The 14th Amendment was designed to grant citizenship to, and protect the civil liberties of, newly emancipated slaves.

Three amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed after the Civil War: the 13th Amendment ended slavery; the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to emancipated slaves; the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to African-American men.

What else does it do?

The amendment also contains several limits on state power: a state shall not violate a citizen’s privileges or immunities; shall not deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; and must guarantee all persons equal protection of the laws.

Who does the 14th Amendment not grant citizenship to?

The amendment does not grant citizenship to children born in the U.S. to foreign diplomats or foreign soldiers. Through their parents, these children are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

How to amend an amendment?

To amend the U.S. Constitution, the change would require a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and then it would require approval by three-fourths of the states -- at least 38 of the 50.

What other countries offer birthright citizenship?

The United States and Canada are the only two developed countries (as defined by the International Monetary Fund) that grant that status. Thirty-one other countries – mainly in the Caribbean, and Latin and South America – offer birthright citizenship.

Several countries in the past 25 years have repealed the status, most recently Australia, in 2007.

Some material for this report came from the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Constitution Center,