President Donald Trump stated his plans to sign an executive order Oct. 28 that would end birthright citizenship for children of non-Americans and illegal immigrants.
To Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Jim VandeHei, Trump boasted: “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t.” Well, Mr. President, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Trump’s claims deal directly with the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution. Under the Citizenship Clause of the amendment, “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 simpler terms: if you are born on U.S. soil, you are a citizen.
This clause has since been referred to as birthright citizenship. To the modern ear, this phrase has become associated with negative rhetoric against migrants by people who claim their long travels are only to give birth on U.S. soil for a way to stay in the country or to “anchor” themselves here.
This divisive claim has made way for anti-immigrant sentiment to grow in the U.S. Fueling these beliefs even more is the language of President Trump who has expressed distaste in American immigration laws from the beginning of his campaign.
Trump’s issue is with the language “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” that he said does not mean all can be citizens — especially illegal immigrants.
“We all cherish the language of the 14th Amendment, but the Supreme Court of the United States has never ruled on whether the language of the 14th Amendment — ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ — applies specifically to people who are in the country illegally,” Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview after President Trump announced his plans.
The U.S. at its core is a land of immigrants: English, Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, Israeli, Canadian. You name it, the U.S. has it. The story of the 19th century’s burst of immigration on American shores is a tale already told as thousands came from far places for a better life. They would bring all that they owned on their backs with dreams of a better life. Families were started, and communities were created. For the children that would be born on U.S. soil, under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, they are citizens.
The passing of the 14th Amendment was not to deal with immigration issues but with free slave status in the post Civil War time.
Martha Jones writes in the Cambridge University Press that “the debate around birthright citizenship was principally driven by questions of what fate should befall the millions of enslaved people liberated by the Civil War, as well as their descendants.”
In the case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford on 1857, Dred Scott, a slave who has lived in free territories sued for his freedom after moving to the southern state of Missouri. The Supreme Court ruled against him stating that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves,” whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen, and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court.”
The language of the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, counteracts this decision and says that any person born in the United States is granted citizenship.
Trump appears to be in the minority on his belief that he can successfully end birthright citizenship through an executive order. The odds are stacked against him. Past presidents like George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama attempted immigration regulation by executive order and failed to do so.
Even more, birthright citizenship remains a beacon of the American image abroad. This country is still seen as a place of opportunity for those fleeing from violence, persecution, poverty or other harsh scenarios. Taking that shining light away would not only hurt the image this country has accumulated, but the people in need of a new home.
Let us be reminded that the relatives and ancestors of most Americans found themselves allowed to become citizens through the language of the constitution. It’s undoubtedly American to welcome new faces.