By Gabriel J. Chin, Talking Points Memo
August 20, 2015
The controversy over whether children of undocumented migrants should be citizens may be heating up now, but it’s just the latest in a string of similar moments in U.S. history. The citizenship status of every non-white racial group has been challenged for literally centuries.
The original Constitution said nothing about who was a U.S. citizen. It gave Congress the power, exclusive of the states, to grant citizenship by naturalization, but it neither addressed the requirements for naturalization nor described the legal status of those obtaining naturalized citizenship. In 1790, Congress linked race to citizenship by allowing only “free white persons” to naturalize; racial restrictions of one kind or another were in effect continuously until 1952. The Constitution also provided that only a “natural-born citizen” could be elected president, but here too, the document failed to explain who was a natural-born citizen, leading to repeated controversies about the eligibility of candidates born out of the United States, such as John McCain, George Romney and Ted Cruz.[...]