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Trump thinks he can end birthright citizenship. What exactly is the 14th Amendment?

Trump thinks he can end birthright citizenship. What exactly is the 14th Amendment?
[Photo: Julie Johnson/Unsplash]

Axios this morning published an interview with President Trump where he describes plans to do away with birthright citizenship. This is something he’s made reference to in the past–especially on the campaign trail–and now we’re seeing exactly how he plans to deal with this so-called “problem.”

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At heart is the issue of “anchor babies,” where a child of an unauthorized citizen born on U.S. soil is granted citizenship. Trump told Axios that the United Staes is the only country that allows for this kind of birthright citizenship (which is not true), calling the centuries-old edict “ridiculous.” Instead of paving the way for a constitutional amendment, Trump plans to draft an executive order. As with other executive orders, this will almost certainly be met with extreme resistance.

Still, it’s important to understand the origins of the law that Trump is trying to eradicate. The right of birthright citizenship is found in the 14th Amendment. This was essentially the law intended to reverse the 1857 Dred Scott ruling, which declared that no African American could become a U.S. citizen. To upend this decision, Congress passed an amendment.

The clause in 14th Amendment states clearly that “[a]ll 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.” A landmark 1896 Supreme Court decision ruled that the son of Chinese immigrants was a U.S. citizen because of this amendment. Though the amendment is pretty clear in its wording, some have called into question the use of the word “jurisdiction.” One argument goes that unauthorized citizens aren’t under the jurisdiction of the United States because they stayed in the country longer than permitted. At the same time, they are paying taxes and following the laws.

As Vox points out, the immigration debate has always been implicitly about race. At one time, only white people were granted citizenship. Then came the 14th Amendment, which still had certain exclusions. “There was never a period during which citizenship at birth was limited on a race-blind basis,” Dara Lind writes. “Where there have been restrictions, those restrictions have been racial.” While citizenship policies over the last few decades have been more inclusive than ever before, the conversation has always been about how to exclude certain nationalities who threaten to change the makeup of the populace. Trump’s new plan is no exception.

We don’t know exactly what his executive order will look like, but we may be seeing it in the very near future. From there, expect a bevy of lawsuits. After that, this would go to the Supreme Court, where Trump will see firsthand if his battle to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed was worth it. Since the Supreme Court has dealt with precisely this issue in the past, it’s unlikely the justices would go against a previous ruling. Then again, we live in a bizarro world now, where nothing is normal or predictable. So who knows!

You can read the full Axios exclusive here.

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