Should being born in the US entitle someone to American citizenship?
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been loudly arguing “no.”
But an 1844 New York court case centering on a 14-year-old Irish girl seems to prove him wrong.
Since Trump released his proposed immigration policy on his campaign website last weekend, one of the most contentious issues (aside from his plans to build a border wall and eject 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country) has been his avowal to put an end to birthright citizenship, or, as Trump prefers to say, “anchor babies.”
Birthright citizenship is protected under the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which states that “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.”
Trump argues that it will be easy for legal scholars to mount a challenge to the 14th amendment as it pertains to birthright citizenship.
However, as MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell recently pointed out in a segment titled “Lessons for Trump from a 14-year-old girl,” the United States’ first high-profile case regarding birthright citizenship came over 20 years before the 14th amendment was even ratified. And it confirmed that those born in the Unites States are indeed entitled to American citizenship, and have been since the very birth of the nation.
The subject of the case? A 14-year-old Irish girl named Julia Lynch.
Julia was the niece of Thomas Lynch, co-owner of the Congress Spring mineral water company in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Thomas died in 1833, without a will or any offspring, but a left behind sizeable fortune and valuable property.
His niece, Julia, his closest living heir, immigrated to the US with her other uncle, Bernard, in 1834, having lost both of her parents a few years prior. Julia had been born in New York to Irish parents in 1819. They remained in the US for a few months following her birth and then returned to Ireland.
Julia’s inheritance hinged entirely upon whether she could be considered a citizen of the United States of America. She was born in the US, but she had never been officially naturalized.
Judge Lewis Sandford, who presided over the case, determined that Julia was indeed eligible to receive her inheritance, because she was and always had been a US citizen.
“The Constitution of the United States, as well as those of all the thirteen old states, pre-supposed the existence of the common law and was founded upon its principles,” Sandford explained in his opinion.
“It is, therefore, the law of the United States that children born here are citizens, without any regard to the political condition or allegiance of their parents.”
For O’Donnell, this is definitive proof that Trump will not be able to negotiate the 14th amendment into changing its meaning.
“Such is the inalienable right to citizenship for babies born in the United States of America. Donald Trump's wishful thinking cannot rewrite that law; cannot rewrite the 14th amendment of the Constitution. He cannot rewrite Judge Sandford's opinion about Julia Lynch's citizenship written 24 years before the fourteenth amendment,” O’Donnell concludes.
"Donald Trump will not find a legal scholar to mount a court challenge to birthright citizenship. The Julia Lynch case can never be reversed. In court, Donald Trump wouldn't have a chance against Julia Lynch; a fourteen year old Irish girl who lived in the United States for only a few months and who came by her American citizenship the same way Donald Trump did. By being born in New York City."
Watch the full segment below: