What Rights Do Children of Illegal Immigrant Parents Have in the U.S.?

What Rights Children of Illegal Immigrant Parents Have in the U.S.

Updated By Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School

The children of undocumented (often called “illegal”) immigrants in the U.S. typically had no say in their parents’ decision to move to the U.S., but must contend with the consequences nonetheless.

If those children were born in the United States, they are automatically U.S. citizens, and have all the rights that come with that.

Although many people assume that having a child in the U.S. (who is automatically a U.S. citizen) allows that parents to obtain lawful immigration status here, that is not the case. U.S. immigration law allows a U.S. citizen to petition for parents only upon turning 21. And in order to get through the financial-sponsorship aspects of the petition process, that child will need to be living in the U.S. and earning a high enough income to support his or her parents as well as any other household members.

Birthright Citizenship in the U.S.

The children of undocumented immigrants lucky enough to have been born in the U.S. will obtain what’s often called “birthright citizenship.” It is conferred automatically, solely by virtue of being born on U.S. soil. This right comes from the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

During various Congressional debates about immigration reform, there has been talk about eliminating or changing this right. In 2010, for example, some senators publicly announced their opinions that the Fourteenth Amendment needs to be amended. They argued that the amendment is being abused, citing instances where wealthy foreign nationals have come to the U.S. for a brief “vacation” and stayed just long enough to give birth to a child. Of course, they also mentioned the millions of immigrants who enter the U.S. without permission and have children, too.

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