If the prevailing application of the 14th Amendment no longer holds, new data documents where the children who would be affected by an executive order live.
President Donald Trump proposed earlier this week to end birthright citizenship—the 14th Amendment which guarantees that everyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen, no matter the status of their parents. The feasibility of this proposal is hotly debated, but nevertheless, if implemented, it could change the lives of immigrant families for generations to come.
New data from the Migration Policy Institute estimates that more than four million children could be affected by such a restriction. Using census data from the American Community Survey, which collects information like citizenship and place of birth, and data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which tallies green card status, researchers estimated how many U.S.-born children have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant.
Hover over the map below to see where these children live: States with fewer than 40,000 affected children are in blue; states with more children are in graduated orange. California makes up over one-fourth of the total affected children across the country; Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois also stand out.
Estimates of U.S.-Born Children with an Unauthorized Immigrant Parent By State
The surveys were conducted by household, thus did not include grown children who might have moved out of their parents’ home, nor did it include international students or temporary visa holders.
Researchers also identified the counties with the most affected children: Counties with fewer than 10,000 affected children are in blue; counties with more children are in graduated orange. Los Angeles County and Harris County (Houston) lead the pack. Note that since the data only include top counties, counties not shown on the map may also be home to affected children.
Estimates of U.S.-Born Children with an Unauthorized Immigrant Parent By County
For some areas, estimates are combined due to the way the American Community Survey classifies regions by population. For example, six counties in southwestern Idaho are clustered together due to low population. In Massachusetts, the data is collected by NECTAs, or New England city and town areas, such as the Boston–Cambridge–Quincy metropolitan area.
Despite the heavily debated political feasibility of this proposal, this potential restriction would still have a profound impact on the size of the undocumented population. If birthright citizenship were ended for U.S.-born babies with two undocumented parents, the report estimates that the undocumented population would grow by 4.7 million people by 2050. If the restriction included those with just one undocumented parent as well, the report predicts the undocumented population would grow from 11 million today to 24 million in 2050, more than doubling.
“Touted by its supporters as a solution to reduce illegal immigration, [a] repeal in fact would have the completely opposite effect,” wrote Michael Fix, president of the Migration Policy Institute, in the report. Even if the border were closed entirely, the undocumented population would continue to grow as more babies are born without citizenship. After a generation, there would even be grandchildren born in undocumented status, even though they and their parents were born in the United States.
Second-generation immigrants—children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents—are mostly well-integrated into the American economy and society. But this proposed restriction would start a self-perpetuating cycle, preventing generations from this civic integration due to their legal status.
“[Undocumented immigrants] have very limited rights in society, if any at all,” said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute. “They don't have access to a lot of things like health care; they won't have access to as good jobs. You'd be condemning this group that's born here to that lower status for their entire lives.”
Trump has said he plans to end birthright citizenship by an executive order, which will most likely be challenged in court. The path to change the Constitution is a convoluted one, but Trump’s supporters say his order would be based not on changing the Constitution, but rather reinterpreting what some conservative legal scholars say is an ambiguous phrase in the 14th Amendment.
Even if Trump’s chance of success is incredibly low, this announcement can still be incredibly influential on his supporters and other policymakers. This rhetoric further multiplies Trump’s overall tone towards America’s millions of immigrant families: you are not welcome here.