What’s the citizenship status of the children of illegal aliens? That question has spurred quite a debate over the 14th Amendment lately, with the news that several states—including Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia, and South Carolina—may launch efforts to deny automatic citizenship to such children.

Critics claim that anyone born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen, even if their parents are here illegally. But that ignores the text and legislative history of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 to extend citizenship to freed slaves and their children.

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