President Trump this week told an interviewer that he intends to end “birthright citizenship,” the 150-year-old constitutional right to citizenship for anyone born on American soil.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says 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.”
Despite the president’s insistence, skirting a constitutional amendment with an executive order doesn’t even appear legally possible. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan was quick to dismiss the idea.
Beyond the legality, the president is attacking yet another pillar of American strength. The language in the 14th Amendment was in answer to the Dred Scott decision, in which the 1857 U.S. Supreme Court decided, among other things, that African-Americans could not be citizens. Dred Scott has been called the worst decision the court ever made.
The irony is that the birth of Trump’s Republican Party can be traced to reaction to Dred Scott. It is why it’s the Party of Lincoln. After the nation fought the Civil War, the 14th Amendment turned all African-Americans into citizens.
That birthright to citizenship became embedded in American society with the wave of European immigration more than a century ago. Millions came knowing their progeny born here would be American in all respects.
Today, birthright citizenship has become a bogeyman for the right wing. About 8 percent of children born in the United States have at least one parent who is undocumented, although the number of such births has fallen in the past decade. Immigration hardliners have argued these children don’t deserve citizenship because their parents do not have legal residency, even though the children will grow up and attend schools in the only country they’ve ever known. If they don’t belong here, where do they belong?
Similar arguments have been used against so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came here as children and went to college and deserve a path to citizenship. But in this case they didn’t arrive here as children. They started here.
No Utahn currently serving or running for Congress — Republican, Democrat or independent — has spoken in favor of the president’s plan. Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, rejected it outright, as did her opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who rightly blames Congress for failure to pass meaningful immigration reform.
A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee seemed more concerned with the limits of presidential power than with the harmfulness of the idea. He declined to say that getting rid of birthright citizenship was a bad idea. His only point was that Congress, not the president, could do it if it wanted. But do we want it, Sen. Lee?
This bluff on killing citizenship rights is part of Trump’s “package” of anti-immigrant scare tactics to get his loyalists to the polls. Like amassing troops at the Mexican border for migrant caravans that pose no threat, it’s not about solving a problem. It’s about feeding fears.
Thankfully, Utahns aren’t biting.