Trump considering Executive Order ending Birthright Citizenship for children of non-citizens and illegal immigrants
CNN: “this is what the president wants to be talking about seven days before [the election], and we’re taking the bait.”
Axios reports this morning that Trump is considering signing an Executive Order ending birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants:
President Trump plans to sign an executive order that would remove the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on U.S. soil, he said yesterday in an exclusive interview for “Axios on HBO,” a new four-part documentary news series debuting on HBO this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Here’s the video clip teasing the interview:
The clip itself doesn’t tell us a lot other than Trump expressing a view he has expressed previously on ending birthright citizenship. Except the mention of an Executive Order is new. But in the clip, there is no indication such an Executive Order is drafted, whether such an Executive Order is definitely going to happen, or when.
Trump told “Axios on HBO” that he has run the idea of ending birthright citizenship by his counsel and plans to proceed with the highly controversial move, which certainly will face legal challenges.
- “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Trump said, declaring he can do it by executive order.
- When told that’s very much in dispute, Trump replied: “You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
- “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 … with all of those benefits,” Trump continued. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.” (More than 30 countries, most in the Western Hemisphere, provide birthright citizenship.)
- “It’s in the process. It’ll happen … with an executive order.”
The president expressed surprise that “Axios on HBO” knew about his secret plan: “I didn’t think anybody knew that but me. I thought I was the only one. “
- Behind the scenes: “Axios on HBO” had been working for weeks on a story on Trump’s plans for birthright citizenship, based on conversations with several sources, including one close to the White House Counsel’s office.
Readers may recall that ending birthright citizenship has been argued by Former Trump Adviser Michael Anton: Constitution Does Not Require Birthright Citizenship:
Michael Anton, a lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College and a former national security official in the Trump administration. Anton also was the pseudonymous author of The Flight 93 Election article that cause a stir prior to the 2016 election.
Earlier this month, Anton penned an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he argued that birthright citizenship was not a constitutional requirement.
In his op-ed, Anton wrote, Citizenship shouldn’t be a birthright:
The notion that simply being born within the geographical limits of the United States automatically confers U.S. citizenship is an absurdity — historically, constitutionally, philosophically and practically.
. . . . Constitutional scholar Edward Erler has shown that the entire case for birthright citizenship is based on a deliberate misreading of the 14th Amendment. The purpose of that amendment was to resolve the question of citizenship for newly freed slaves. Following the Civil War, some in the South insisted that states had the right to deny citizenship to freedmen. In support, they cited 1857’s disgraceful Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which held that no black American could ever be a citizen of the United States.
A constitutional amendment was thus necessary to overturn Dred Scott and to define the precise meaning of American citizenship.
That definition is the amendment’s very first sentence: “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.”
The amendment clarified for the first time that federal citizenship precedes and supersedes its state-level counterpart. No state has the power to deny citizenship, hence none may dispossess freed slaves.
Anton went on to make a distinction between “subject to the jurisdiction” and “subject to American law.”
Second, the amendment specifies two criteria for American citizenship: birth or naturalization (i.e., lawful immigration), and being subject to U.S. jurisdiction. We know what the framers of the amendment meant by the latter because they told us. Sen. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, a principal figure in drafting the amendment, defined “subject to the jurisdiction” as “not owing allegiance to anybody else” — that is, to no other country or tribe.
Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan, a sponsor of the clause, further clarified that the amendment explicitly excludes from citizenship “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”
Yet for decades, U.S. officials — led by immigration enthusiasts in and out of government — have acted as though “subject to the jurisdiction” simply means “subject to American law.” That is true of any tourist who comes here.
The framers of the 14th Amendment added the jurisdiction clause precisely to distinguish between people to whom the United States owes citizenship and those to whom it does not. Freed slaves definitely qualified. The children of immigrants who came here illegally clearly don’t.
Anton offered multiple solutions, including Executive Order:
The problem can be fixed easily. Congress could clarify legislatively that the children of noncitizens are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and thus not citizens under the 14th Amendment. But given the open-borders enthusiasm of congressional leaders of both parties, that’s unlikely.
It falls, then, to Trump. An executive order could specify to federal agencies that the children of noncitizens are not citizens. Such an order would, of course, immediately be challenged in the courts. But officers in all three branches of government — the president no less than judges — take similar oaths to defend the Constitution. Why shouldn’t the president act to defend the clear meaning of the 14th Amendment?
I haven’t researched the issue, so I’m not going to express a view on whether Anton is correct. In 2011, James Ho, now a Trump appointee to the 5th Circuit, wrote an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal rejecting the argument set forth recently by Anton, Birthright Citizenship and the 14th Amendment:
A coalition of state legislators, motivated by concerns about illegal immigration, is expected to endorse state-level legislation today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to deny the privileges of U.S citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented persons.
This effort to rewrite U.S. citizenship law from state to state is unconstitutional—and curious. Opponents of illegal immigration cannot claim to champion the rule of law and then, in the same breath, propose policies that violate our Constitution.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, members of the 39th Congress proposed amending the Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court’s notorious 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling denying citizenship to slaves. The result is the first sentence of the 14th Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
The plain meaning of this language is clear. A foreign national living in the United States is “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” because he is legally required to obey U.S. law. (By contrast, a foreign diplomat who travels here on behalf of a foreign sovereign enjoys diplomatic immunity from—and thus is not subject to the jurisdiction of—U.S. law.)
Between the lines: Until the 1960s, the 14th Amendment was never applied to undocumented or temporary immigrants, Eastman said.
- Between 1980 and 2006, the number of births to unauthorized immigrants — which opponents of birthright citizenship call “anchor babies” — skyrocketed to a peak of 370,000, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research. It then declined slightly during and following the Great Recession.
- The Supreme Court has already ruled that children born to immigrants who are legal permanent residents have citizenship. But those who claim the 14th Amendment should not apply to everyone point to the fact that there has been no ruling on a case specifically involving undocumented immigrants or those with temporary legal status.
Doing this by Executive Order certainly would be challenged in the courts, and there is little doubt that some district court somewhere, and perhaps multiple district courts, would enjoin such an executive order. Which means that in a year or two, it would be in front of the Supreme Court.
*Constitutional Scholar” Jim Acosta has declared any such move unconstitutional:
The founders set up the constitution so the president can’t do what he’s proposing to do with birthright citizenship. It’s a stunt, like sending the troops to a border for a non-existent invasion.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 30, 2018
Drawn like a moth to fire, CNN laments that “this is what the president wants to be talking about seven days before [the election], and we’re taking the bait.”
Yet Jonathan Swan of Axios, who broke the story, disputes that this was a planned Trump rollout:
I had been working on a story for a while, based on a leak from a good source, but it wasn’t ready for prime time. I thought I’d spring the question on POTUS
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