The president falsely claimed that the United States is ‘the only country in the world’ to endow the right of citizenship on to people born here, and that he would move to sign order ending it – effectively changing the Constitution.
Donald Trump has insisted he will move to end the right to American citizenship for the children of non-citizens born in the US, a pledge he made frequently throughout the 2016 campaign and one often dismissed by scholars as legally unfeasible.
Birthright citizenship is enshrined by the 14th amendment to the constitution. But Trump suggested in an interview that he would move to sign an executive order that ended the right. Any such order would probably be instantly challenged in the courts.
The comments came as the administration hardens its already extreme line on immigration in a bid to win the midterm elections next week. Trump dispatched more than 5,000 active-duty military troops to the southern border on Monday, as a slow-moving group of around 3,500 Central Americans , including mothers and children, trekked towards the US border at least 1,000 miles away.
The order immediately gave rise to pictures of troops in combat gear and armored vehicles heading to join already heavily armed border patrol agents, as Trump characterized the caravan as “an invasion of our country.” Many of the migrants are expected to seek asylum, as US and international law allows.
In the interview with Axios, Trump falsely claimed: “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits.” He added: “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”
In fact, dozens of countries around the world, including Canada and Brazil, endow the same right. Countries such as the UK and Australia endow a restricted version.
Trump said he had discussed the move with legal counsel and had been told it could be accomplished with a presidential order.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment,” Trump said. “Guess what? You don’t.”
He offered no timeframe on the signing of such an order and was not asked to give one.
Constitutional amendments cannot be overridden by the president and can only be altered by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress or support from two-thirds of state governments.
Nonetheless, attempts to curtail the right to citizenship at birth have long been pursued by hardliners in the Republican party. Legislation has been proposed in both the Senate and the House in recent years but has never passed a vote.
On Tuesday, Republican senator Lindsey Graham said he would introduce legislation to support Trump’s plan. In a statement, he said his measure would be “along the same lines” as the executive order. He did not give any details or timeline.
It is likely that any bill in the Senate would need 60 votes to pass. Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority. If a law were to pass both houses, it could still be challenged in the courts.
As a candidate, Trump frequently lambasted birthright citizenship, accusing so-called “anchor babies” of not being Americans.
“I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers – and I know some will disagree, but many of them agree with me – and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship,” Trump told Fox News in 2015.
The 14th amendment reads: “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.”
Republicans who have sought to alter the right contend the amendment does not apply to the children of undocumented migrants, and hope that the supreme court, now with a conservative majority, will side with them.
Speaking after Trump’s comments aired, Vice-President Mike Pence told Politico: “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.”
Migrant advocacy groups responded with fury.
“This is an attempt to whiteout America’s history and heritage as a nation of immigrants,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of Families Belong Together. “Americans will reject this cynical political ploy to stoke hate before the election. It is a radical hateful agenda at odds with our core American values of love, community and inclusion.”
A study by the Migration Policy Institute suggested that curtailing birthright citizenship would lead to a swell in America’s population of undocumented people, from 11 to 16 million by 2050.
Statistics from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show that illegal border crossings have declined significantly from record highs in the early years of the century. Last year, 396,579 undocumented people were apprehended after entering the US illegally. In 2000, more than 1.6 million were apprehended.