President Trump said he plans to issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship, saying he’s tired of waiting on others to tackle illegal immigration.
Mr. Trump made the announcement to Axios in an interview released Tuesday, instantly reviving a decades-old debate over whether the Constitution guarantees most persons born on U.S. soil American citizenship, even if they sneaked into the country.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Mr. Trump told the online political outlet.
While lawmakers have debated whether ending birthright citizenship could be done through statute, turning to an executive order is a new — and even more controversial — move.
That’s particularly true for Mr. Trump who during the 2016 campaign routinely blasted President Barack Obama for using executive orders and actions to get around a gridlocked Congress on immigration matters, such as his DACA deportation amnesty.
Mr. Trump, who had called those orders illegal, now finds himself in the same position, frustrated with the same Capitol Hill gridlock.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent supporter of the president on Capitol Hill, cheered Mr. Trump’s plan. The South Carolina Republican also plans on introducing his own legislation “along the same lines” as the president.
“Finally, a president willing to take on this absurd policy of birthright citizenship,” Mr. Graham tweeted.
Some conservatives argue that granting automatic citizenship to most babies born on U.S. soil amounts to an enticement for more illegal immigration. Children with citizenship make their parents eligible for some tax credits and can eventually sponsor relatives for status themselves.
In 2014, about 275,000 babies were born to parents who were illegal immigrant, or about 7 percent of the 4 million births in the U.S. that year, according to Pew Research Center analysis of government data.
But it’s not clear how many of those were to illegal immigrant mothers who came with the specific goal of making their children American citizens.
The president said it was “ridiculous” to be the only country with birthright citizenship, and insisted that “it has to end.”
There are at least 30 nations in the Western Hemisphere with forms of birthright citizenship, including both Canada and Mexico, according to a list compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine declared any attempt to unilaterally undo a constitutional amendment would violate the president’s oath of office.
“It reveals who he is — a man who longs to return to the days when African Americans and members of other ethnic minorities are denied the equality promised by Jefferson and Lincoln,” Mr. Kaine of Virginia said in a statement, “The U.S. presidency is not a dictatorship. Patriotic Americans must rally to defeat the President’s unprecedented attempt to rewrite the Constitution on his own.”
Left-leaning activists strongly condemned the president’s proposed plan as racist, and argued it was all orchestrated to stir up tensions ahead of midterms.
The ACLU said such an attempt would be well beyond presidential powers.
“The president cannot erase the Constitution with an executive order, and the 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee is clear. This is a transparent and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to sow division and fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms,” ACLU’s Immigrant’s Rights Project Director Omar Jadwat said in a statement.
“Trump’s racist attempt to attack birthright citizenship is especially vile after a week filled with right-wing, white nationalist violence that he himself fomented,” CREDO Action’s Co-Director Heidi Hess said, “Any politician who does not immediately denounce this racist attack is aligning themselves 100 percent with Trump’s vicious hate and the violence that it incites.”
Ms. Hess said there’s no way to be certain Mr. Trump will follow through on his plan, but accused his administration of wanting to “maintain white supremacy and white privilege.”
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, says that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
Vice President Mike Pence described birthright citizenship as a “magnet” that contributes to human traffickers’ ability to manipulate immigrant families. He argued that addressing that is one step in fixing a overall “broken system.”
“We all cherish the language of the 14th Amendment, but the Supreme Court of the United States has never ruled on whether or not the language of the 14th Amendment subject to the jurisdiction thereof applies specifically to people who are in the country illegally,” Mr. Pence said.
Legal scholars say the debate is about what it means to be “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”
Babies born to foreign diplomats, for example, are not granted automatic citizenship because their parents are considered still under the jurisdiction of their home governments.
Some conservatives argue that illegal immigrants who are in the U.S. without the government’s permission would not fall under the “jurisdiction” clause, and can also be excluded.
The Supreme Court has never grappled squarely with this question on its own, but in several major decisions involving the 14th Amendment has assumed that babies born to illegal immigrant mothers are U.S. citizens from birth.