Trump dismisses a century of constitutional scholarship in bid to end birthright citizenship

President Trump on Wednesday again sought to turn the nation’s attention to his hard-line stance on immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections, claiming that birthright citizenship is not covered by the U.S. Constitution and vowing the issue will ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.

“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other,” Trump tweeted.

The concept of birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States, is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

Donald Trump, 14th Amendment (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, NARA)
Donald Trump, 14th Amendment (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, NARA)

In an excerpt of an interview with “Axios on HBO” released Tuesday, Trump said he believes he can end birthright citizenship with an executive order. Legal scholars overwhelmingly scoffed at the idea.

Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said Trump does not have the authority he claims.

“You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” Ryan said in a radio interview on Tuesday afternoon. “As a conservative, I’m a believer of following the plain text of the Constitution. And I think in this case the 14th Amendment’s pretty clear.”

Trump fired back in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump took issue with the wording of the 14th Amendment.

“It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof,’” the president said, adding that “many legal scholars agree” with him. Most legal experts disagree, interpreting the clause narrowly, to exclude, for example, the families of foreign diplomats residing in the United States.

“The conventional understanding is absolutely clear that children born in the United States are citizens of the United States, with the insignificant exception of the children of diplomats,” Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, told the New York Times.

“The 14th Amendment settled the question of birthright citizenship,” John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who served in the George W. Bush administration, wrote in a recent essay. “According to the best reading of its text, structure and history, anyone born on American territory, no matter their national origin, ethnicity or station in life, is an American citizen.”

In an op-ed published Wednesday in the Washington Post, George Conway, a prominent lawyer and husband of Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, argued that Trump’s push to end birthright citizenship would be unconstitutional.

“Sometimes the Constitution’s text is plain as day and bars what politicians seek to do,” Conway wrote. “That’s the case with President Trump’s proposal.

“The drafters were motivated by their utter revulsion toward slavery and a system that relegated people to subordinate political status because of their birth,” Conway continued. “They weren’t thinking of, or concerned with, any exceptions to birthright citizenship other than the absolutely essential. And what they wrote was simple and clear. Both proponents and opponents of the language at the time knew exactly what it meant: Virtually anyone born in the United States is a citizen.”

In 1898, Conway noted, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment “affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory … including all children here born of resident aliens.”

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board said Trump’s “birth citizenship gambit” puts him “on the wrong side of immigration law and politics,” and that the meaning of the amendment is clear.

“Opponents of birth citizenship try to obscure this plain meaning by interpreting ‘subject to the jurisdiction’ as applying only to those who owe allegiance to America,” the Journal said. “The very purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to prevent politicians from denying citizenship to those they thought weren’t American enough.”

The case against birthright citizenship is one that’s long been promoted by anti-immigrant groups who, since the election of Trump, have seen views that were previously considered fringe and extreme embraced by the White House and congressional Republicans.

Trump and other conservatives pointed to a 1993 speech by former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who argued “no sane country” would grant citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

“If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with citizenship and guarantee a full access to all public and social services this country provides,” Reid lamented. “That’s a lot of services.”

“Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) ‘stuff,’” the president tweeted Wednesday. “Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be settled by the United States Supreme Court!”

Trump added: “The World is using our laws to our detriment. They laugh at the Stupidity they see!”


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