Criminal Justice

Should children of illegal immigrants be granted legal citizenship?

As undocumented individuals that were brought to the United States as children toil in limbo as to what their future holds, a debate has emerged around what the U.S.’s position towards Dreamers should be.

Rise of the Issue

Granting pathways to citizenship for undocumented migrants has long been a hot topic of debate, but especially since the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” stance on immigration enforcement, many Americans have been touched by the number of families separated at the border, and the many children who were only able to stay in the U.S. without their parents or siblings. One of the ways some see as a possible solution to issues such as this one, is to grant legal citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, thereby protecting them and possibly also their immediate family from deportation. 

But while some are of the opinion that creating more legal pathways to citizenship would reduce the number of undocumented migrants coming into the country, others worry it will only incentivize parents to bring children to the United States or have their children be born here even if they did not enter the country legally.

Issue Timeline


The Fourteenth Amendment Is Enacted

It grants US citizenship to all those born or naturalized in the United States.


Congress passes Immigration Reform and Control Act

The law granted legal status to certain immigrants who entered the country undocumented before January 1, 1982.


Denying Undocumented Immigrants Rights Deemed Unlawful

Although Californians voted to deny those who had entered the country illegally access to healthcare, education and welfare, the District Court deemed it unconstitutional.


Congress Passes LIFE Act

The bill expanded the possibilities for people who had entered illegally to obtain legal residence.


Trump Administration Announces End to DACA Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) granted legal protections to roughly 800,000 people who entered the country illegally as children.


Supreme Court Blocks Ending DACA

The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration had not given adequate justification for ending the program.

Micro Issues


Punishment and Reward

While one side argues the child should not be punished for a choice their parents made, the other side sees granting citizenship to the children as a reward to the parents for breaking the law.



While one side believes that it is fair to help Dreamers out of a dire situation that they themselves have not created, the other side believes that doing so would be unfair to other immigrants, both legal and illegal.



The two sides differ on whether granting citizenship to children of undocumented migrants would create an incentive for more undocumented migrants to attempt to cross the border.

Pro Arguments


Granting Dreamers citizenship could boost the economy in the long run.

Granting these children citizenship would enable them to become part of the legal economy and contribute to it more fully.


Children should not be punished for their parents' wrongdoing.

It is the parents that decided to enter the country undocumented, and children should not have to suffer the negative consequences of their parents’ actions.


It would give individuals who are now in limbo a real place in American society.

It would put undocumented immigrants that entered the U.S. as minors on a path to becoming fully fledged citizens that have rights they have so far been denied.


Denying these children citizenship can lead to impossible situations.

Because the 14th amendment states that anyone born on US soil are citizens of the United States, illegal immigrant families can be separated as some children might be born on the territory while the rest of the family was born abroad.


It would provide them with economic, social and psychological security.

The ability to attend school and work lawfully would help these children acquire better opportunities such as new job prospects with better work conditions and better pay, as well as the psychological benefit of not having to constantly live in fear of deportation and the stress it causes.

Con Arguments


It is could be an incentive for illegal immigration.

The prospect of having your child be an American citizen can be enough for parents to decide to come to the U.S. illegally.


It opens the door to chain migration.

Children with U.S. citizenship can sponsor visas for their parents and possibly other relatives to then come into the country legally.


It can expose the parents to exploitation.

If parents are desperate to gain U.S. citizenship to be with their child that has been granted legal citizenship, it might leave them vulnerable to illegal channels and human traffickers who could exploit them.


It could prevent the parents from being deported.

By protecting children from deportation and giving them legal citizenship, it creates a situation where the U.S. has to decide whether to deport parents and separate the child from their family, or grant them the right to stay with their child.


People should not be rewarded for breaking the law.

Entering the United States undocumented is illegal and granting their children citizenship can be seen as a reward for an illegal action.