Trump Wants to Change the Rules of birthright Citizenship
-By Jim Owen
President Trump has demanded the repeal of birthright citizenship, the constitutional guarantee that anyone born in the United States is automatically an American citizen regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
History of Birthright Citizenship
The law, embodied in the 14th Amendment, dates to 1868. It was one of three amendments approved in the years immediately following the Civil War. The 13th and 15th amendments banned slavery and extended some civil rights to former slaves.
Jeffrey Rosen, CEO of the nonpartisan National Constitution Center, told CNN that the purpose of the amendments was to solidify President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. He explained that the Constitution was a bit fuzzy regarding citizenship. The document did not specify how to define the term, or to whom it should be applied.
The 14th Amendment finally clarified the issue. It was a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case, which involved a slave seeking his freedom. The justices ruled that African-Americans were not eligible for citizenship, and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
The President’s Position
Trump has weighed in on birthright citizenship as part of his crusade to defend U.S. borders and deport undocumented immigrants. During a recent appearance on “Axios on HBO,” he vowed to issue an executive order to revoke citizenship rights for children born in the United States to parents who are non-citizens or undocumented immigrants.
The president said it is “ridiculous” that the United States is the only country that awards the benefits of citizenship to babies of unauthorized migrants. (Fact-checkers noted that 30 other nations, including Mexico and Canada, also have birthright citizenship laws.)
What Others Say
Some constitutional experts do not believe that the amendment extended citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. The 19th century politicians who passed the law had no idea that such great numbers of people from other countries would flock to the United States in the ensuing years.
Michael Anton, a former Trump administration national-security official, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today that people are wrong to think the amendment mandates citizenship for the offspring of people who are in the country illegally. He noted that the authors of the clause were only concerned about ensuring that newly freed African-American slaves and their descendants would be considered citizens.
The National Review pointed out that the amendment did not apply to the children of Chinese immigrants until 1898, and that native Americans waited until 1924 to gain citizenship. The magazine claimed that if the amendment’s authors meant for the statute to pertain to everyone born within U.S. boundaries, native Americans and people of Chinese descent would have been deemed citizens at that time.
Key Phrase in Amendment
Trump cited a phrase in the amendment that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” According to the president, undocumented immigrants do not deserve citizenship rights because they are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. The Supreme Court rejected that argument in the 1982 case Plyer v. Doe, but the debate among constitutional authorities continues.
Anton wrote that the phrase regarding national jurisdiction would be meaningless if was meant to pertain to anyone born on U.S. soil. He argued that the amendment’s authors, in stipulating they were referring only to former slaves, made clear that someone could not earn citizenship just by being born in the country.
Anton noted that an earlier version of the amendment did not contain the jurisdiction phrase. He said the authors, in response to questions about whether the clause granted citizenship to everyone regardless of their parents’ status, responded that only those “not owing allegiance to anybody else” and “not subject to some foreign power” would qualify for citizenship. Based on that analysis, the two constitutional requirements are birth or naturalization, and being subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
How to Repeal the Law
Legal scholars agree that Trump cannot unilaterally rescind an amendment. The Constitution calls for a two-thirds “supermajority” of the House and Senate, as well as 75 percent of the states, to do so. Congress could be bypassed in the process if two-thirds of the states voted to hold a constitutional convention. Three-fourths of the states would still have to support repeal.
Some of the president’s allies insist that Congress has the power redefine citizenship by passing legislation by a simple majority vote, just as lawmakers did regarding the Chinese and native Americans.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is among those who back Trump’s proposal. Eight years ago, he told Fox News that he was considering sponsoring a constitutional amendment to rewrite the regulations. The senator called birthright citizenship “a mistake” because someone who enters the country illegally should not be able to give birth and automatically have the child become a citizen.
Consequences of Repeal
Human-rights advocates warn that denying citizenship rights to the children of illegal immigrants would cause more poverty and crime, partly because “stateless” people have a harder time getting jobs. Noncitizens also are not allowed to vote, do not qualify for some health-care and other government-assistance programs, and lack certain legal rights and other protections afforded to native-born Americans.
Those who support repealing the amendment note that taxpayers could save millions of dollars by no longer having to support the impoverished descendants of people who entered the country unlawfully. Many believe that birthright citizenship is an incentive for foreigners to come to the United States to give birth to their children.
Repealing the amendment could help Republicans win elections since most minority voters tend to cast ballots for Democrats. In the not-so-distant future, the United States may become a “majority minority” country, meaning that less than half of the population is white. That would have a significant impact on not only politics but also the society and culture. Conservatives and liberals disagree on whether those changes would be good or bad.
In the short term, Trump’s advocacy on the issue could help turn out conservative voters in the Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections. The president has been holding rallies across the country, urging his base of supporters to cast ballots