Birthright citizenship: Where the 2016 presidential candidates stand on the 14th Amendment

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A marker embedded in the pavement shows the border between the United States and Mexico at California’s San Ysidro checkpoint. (Photo: Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Republican presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump continues to inveigh against immigrants from Mexico, this week taking on the very concept of birthright citizenship that has allowed millions of people from all over the world — including the emancipated slaves — to become U.S. citizens and then bequeath that allegiance to their own offspring.

The U.S. Constitution has guaranteed U.S. citizenship to people born on United States soil, regardless of their parents’ nationality, since the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868. The amendment was designed to make sure that Americans of African ancestry were guaranteed U.S. citizenship — and attendant rights — after the Civil War and to reverse the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court decision of 1857, which declared that no American blacks, slave or free, had U.S. citizenship or the right to fight for their freedom in U.S. courts.

The 14th Amendment’s first sentence 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.”

In 1898 the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, that everyone born in the United States is an American citizen.

But now, all of a sudden and thanks to Trump, politicians and pundits on the right are speaking out against birthright citizenship, even though it has been settled constitutional law for nearly 150 years. 

This is where the contenders for the Oval Office stand on the issue:

The Republicans

Donald Trump, real estate magnate/reality TV star
Against birthright citizenship


Donald Trump reported for jury duty in August. The 14th Amendment is what has allowed millions of others to do the same. (Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)

Trump called for an end to birthright citizenship in his first official policy plan since announcing his candidacy, “Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again.”

“This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid, who said ‘no sane country’ would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants,” Trump said.

The billionaire businessman outlined what he described as the three core principles of his immigration plan: A nation without borders is not a nation, a nation without laws is not a nation, and a nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation.

In an interview on Fox News, Trump said he would deport millions of undocumented immigrants and let the “good ones” return through an “expedited” process.

“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 — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship,” he said. “We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell.”

Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon
Against birthright citizenship


Ben Carson agrees with Trump on birthright citizenship. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Ben Carson spoke out against birthright citizenship during a speech in Phoenix Tuesday, Breitbart reported.

“I know the 14th Amendment has been brought up recently, about anchor babies — and it doesn’t make any sense to me that people could come in here, have a baby, and that baby becomes an American citizen,” Carson said, according to the conservative news site. “There are many countries in the world where they simply have recognized that and don’t allow that to occur.”

Chris Christie, New Jersey governor
Birthright citizenship needs to be reexamined

Earlier this month, in conversation with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Chris Christie said the 14th Amendment might be outdated.

“I think all this stuff needs to be reexamined in light of the current circumstances,” he said during a moment flagged by ThinkProgress. “[Birthright citizenship] may have made sense at some point in our history, but right now we need to re-look at all that.”

John Kasich, Ohio governor
Supports birthright citizenship

While in Congress, John Kasich backed ending birthright citizenship but has since changed his mind.

“When I think about it, I don’t believe it should be a fundamental part of this whole thing, because I think it remains dividing to people, to be honest with you,” Kasich said in an interview with CNN. “I think we need to get over that. I’m not for it anymore. Let these people who are born here be citizens, and that’s the end of it. I don’t want to dwell on it.”

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor
Against birthright citizenship

Bobby Jindal, the son of immigrants from Punjab, India, does not think the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States should be granted citizenship.

“We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants,” he tweeted Monday, a day after Trump unveiled his plan.

Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor
Against birthright citizenship

Scott Walker fielded a barrage of questions from reporters as he walked through the Iowa State Fair Monday.

“Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?” MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt asked.

“Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it’s not right for this country — I think that’s something we should, yeah, absolutely, going forward,” he replied.

Hunt reiterated her question: “We should end birthright citizenship?”

“Yeah, to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country.”

Marco Rubio, U.S. senator from Florida
Supports birthright citizenship

Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, dismissed Trump’s immigration reform plan at the Iowa State Fair Tuesday.

“I don’t agree with that. I’m open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the U.S. for purposes of taking advantage of the 14th Amendment, but I’m not in favor of repealing it,” he said, according to Bloomberg Politics.

Rubio said some of Trump’s immigration reform ideas have merit but that most of them are unrealistic and would never get congressional approval.

“There is not a realistic way of rounding up and deporting 12 or 13 million people, and our nation wouldn’t want to do that anyways,” he said.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Supports birthright citizenship


Carly Fiorina said people should focus on securing the border, not undoing an amendment to the Constitution. (Photo: Jim Cole)

Carly Fiorina said that changing the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship would not be an efficient way to address immigration reform. There are more important matters to discuss, she added.

“It would take passing a constitutional amendment to get that changed. It’s part of our 14th Amendment. So honestly, I think we should put all of our energies, all of our political will into finally getting the border secured and fixing the legal immigration,” she said.

Fiorina also said the U.S. should defund sanctuary cities and deport undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

Jeb Bush, former Florida governor
Supports birthright citizenship

Jeb Bush opposes Trump’s plan to get rid of birthright citizenship.

“That’s a constitutional right,” Bush said to CBS News Tuesday. “Mr. Trump can say he’s for this because people are frustrated that it’s abused. We ought to fix the problem rather than take away rights that are constitutionally endowed.”

George Pataki, former New York governor
Supports birthright citizenship

In an appearance on MSNBC Tuesday, George Pataki said that Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizen merely panders to those who are angry with the government and immigrants; it’s not an actual plan to be considered.

“I don’t support amending the Constitution to kick out kids who were born here,” he said. “It’s not practical that we’re going to put 11 million people on buses or trains, have police round up all over the country, going to farms and businesses and sending people back. It is really something that shouldn’t be taken seriously.”

Lindsey Graham, U.S. senator from South Carolina
Against birthright citizenship

Lindsey Graham has opposed birthright citizenship for years and told Kasie Hunt on Monday that he would be willing to change it after fixing “the current broken immigration system.”

In 2010, in conversation with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, Graham said, “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake. …  We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.”

Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania
Against birthright citizenship

In May, Rick Santorum penned an op-ed, “An Immigration Policy for Hard-working Americans,” for the conservative Breitbart news site.

He argued that birthright citizenship is an enticement to illegal immigration that must be ended.

“Only children born on American soil where at least one parent is a citizen or resident aliens is automatically a U.S. citizen,” Santorum wrote. “Of developed countries other than the United States, only Canada has birthright citizenship.”

Rand Paul, U.S. senator from Kentucky
Against birthright citizenship


Rand Paul has opposed birthright citizenship for years. (Photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Back in 2011, Rand Paul and fellow Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced legislation to end birthright citizenship.

“Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits,” Paul said at the time. “This legislation makes it necessary that everyone follow the rules, and goes through same process to become a U.S. citizen.”

In April 2015, Paul discussed his views on immigration policy with World Net Daily, a conservative news site.

“There are probably kids your age or a little younger who have been here their whole life,” he said to the reporter. “They came here at 1, they don’t even speak Spanish, they probably were in your high school class. Is it fair to send them back to Mexico? No. But is it fair to say that they can stay and everyone like them from Mexico can come also?”

Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia
Supports birthright citizenship

Jim Gilmore said that the 14th Amendment makes clear that every person born in the U.S. has the right to citizenship and that repealing it now would set the country back.

“I think [Trump’s] been out in the sun at the Iowa State Fair too long,” he said to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. “There is no lawyer anywhere in America that misunderstands the 14th Amendment. If you are born in the United States, you are a natural-born citizen.”

Ted Cruz, U.S. senator from Texas
Position unclear

Ted Cruz, who was born in Calgary, Canada, does not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Though his stance on birthright citizenship was not immediately clear, he has defended Donald Trump’s controversial comments on illegal immigration in the past.

“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn’t want to address that,” he said on NBC News.

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor
Supports birthright citizenship

Mike Huckabee said that the Supreme Court has upheld birthright citizenship in “three different centuries,” so the discussion is irrelevant, the Huffington Post reported.

He told NPR’s Tom Ashbrook that he would not favor repealing the parts of the 14th Amendment that guarantee it — nor does he think it would be possible anyway.

The Democrats

Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor
Supports birthright citizenship


Democrats vying for the White House, such as former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, support the existing constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship. (Photo: John Locher/AP)

In June, Martin O’Malley released a statement, in both English and Spanish, criticizing the state of Texas for allegedly denying birth certificates to some U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, according to the Washington Times.

“Denying birth certificates to U.S. citizens is not only outrageous, it’s unconstitutional,” he said. “The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution could not be clearer.”

Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont
Supports birthright citizenship

Judging from his policies and actions, it is reasonable to assume that he supports birthright citizenship and would challenge any attempt to remove the 14th Amendment. Though it does not appear that Bernie Sanders has addressed birthright citizenship specifically in recent days, he has been highly critical of the anti-immigration wing of the GOP.

When the New York Times asked what he thought of Trump’s surge in the polls, Sanders replied, “Not much.”

“I think Donald Trump’s views on immigration and his slurring of the Latino community is not something that should be going on in the year 2015, and it’s to me an embarrassment for our country,” he said.

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state
Supports birthright citizenship 

Lorella Praeli, the Latino outreach director of Hillary for America, released a statement titled, “Walker endorsing Trump proposal to end birthright citizenship.”

“It is disturbing that Republican presidential candidates continue to embrace extreme anti-immigrant positions as core pieces of their immigration platform,” she said in the statement, according to the Washington Examiner. “While more Republicans are promoting policies that tear families apart, Hillary Clinton remains consistent in her position to defend President Obama’s executive actions and push for a comprehensive solution that includes a pathway to full and equal citizenship at the heart of any immigration reform plan.”

Not every presidential candidate has waded into the discussion over birthright citizenship yet.

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