DAVID MAROTTOLO ’22
During the past few days, President Trump said that he intends to issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented or illegal immigrants. Birthright citizenship is the concept that any child born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen of the United States. It is one of the most common means of becoming a citizen, along with being the child of a U.S. citizen, or applying to become a naturalized citizen. President Trump claims that he wishes to terminate this right. Such a claim conflicts with the text of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, which states that “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 Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the interpretation that this grants all U.S.-born children citizenship in cases such as United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898). However, President Trump and the Republican Party argue that immigrants, and by extension their children, fall under the jurisdiction of their home country and not the U.S.; therefore, positing that the 14th Amendment does not apply.
President Trump has gone so far as to state that, if an executive order cannot achieve his goal, Congress will pass a bill curtailing rights for the children of immigrants.
Before delving any further into the moral question at hand, let me be perfectly clear: no President can unilaterally amend the Constitution of the United States through an executive order. Similarly, President Trump’s claims that Congress could alter the status of such children is highly unlikely. Though the question of citizenship does fall under Congress’ jurisdiction, such a change would likely be interpreted as directly violating the intent of the 14th Amendment; as such it would require another Constitutional amendment to effect said change.
The issue at hand is whether denying citizenship to U.S.-born children of immigrants warrants enacting the complicated process necessary to amend the Constitution. The clear response is that such a decision would be both unnecessary and cruel. Disenfranchising the children of immigrants in no way discourages individuals from entering the U.S.; it merely removes the rights of American citizens.
This move is rooted in the xenophobia of the Trump administration, and represents a clear plea to conservative voters considering the upcoming midterm elections. There is no legal precedent for President Trump’s claims, and there was never meant to be; this is yet another attempt to distract detractors from the more important issues of the midterms.