According to the 14th Amendment, any baby born in the United States is automatically a citizen – even if his or her parents are illegal immigrants.
This week, Trump suggested he could end this “ridiculous” rule with an executive order:
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“You can definitely do it with an act of Congress,” he said, “but now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
Like his harsh rhetoric about the caravan of migrants currently headed towards the US, Trump’s renewed call to end birthright citizenship is likely an attempt to excite his voter base ahead of next week’s elections.
But it is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
While it seems natural to grant citizenship to anyone born in the US, the policy is a magnet for illegal immigrants. It also contributes to human traffickers’ ability to manipulate families.
In 2014, roughly 7% of the 4 million babies born in the US were born to illegal immigrants. These children make their parents qualify for tax credits and can eventually sponsor foreign relatives for status themselves.
According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 50% of Republicans want to end birthright citizenship, and most Democrats and Independents would like to see it continue.
Trump did not specify how quickly he plans to act on his proposal, but officials said there wouldn’t be any decisions until after the midterm elections.
It is unclear whether Trump actually has the ability to end birthright citizenship without Congress.
“[It is] outrageous that the president can think he can override constitutional guarantees by issuing an executive order,” says Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU in New York. “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.”
Others insist that because the question has not been tested in the Supreme Court, Trump could direct his agencies to provide citizenship only in cases where one or both parents are domiciled immigrants or US citizens.
This week, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he is working on legislation “along the same lines as the proposed executive order.”
Editor’s note: I don’t believe Trump can end birthright citizenship this way, and I wouldn’t want him to. But the problem remains that illegals come into the country specifically to have their babies become citizens. Trump has started a rhetorical battle intended to take this issue to the forefront. While the Constitution may prevent him from changing this rule, he may yet find a way to address the problem.