Special Briefing: The End of Birthright Citizenship? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Special Briefing: The End of Birthright Citizenship?

Special Briefing: The End of Birthright Citizenship?

By OZY Editors

US President Donald Trump speaks during an election rally in Murphysboro, Illinois on October 27, 2018.
SourceNicholas Kamm/Getty


Some see Trump’s new focus on birthright citizenship as an election strategy … but he’s been talking about it for years.

By OZY Editors

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead. 


What happened? President Donald Trump casually dropped a bombshell this week: He’s been advised, he said, that he can use an executive order to end the constitutionally protected right of citizenship for anyone born on American soil. That set off alarm bells for legal scholars, most of whom have taken issue with his suggestion — but it also sparked a national discussion about why birthright citizenship exists and what its end might mean. 

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President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Southern Illinois Airport on October 27, in Murphysboro, Illinois.

Source Scott Olson/Getty

Why does it matter? While Trump has talked about it since well before he was elected, the push to end birthright citizenship has long been a cause of America’s White nationalists. But White House officials were reportedly startled by the commander in chief’s announcement, saying it hadn’t been discussed. Opponents of the president have characterized the controversial idea as a way for Trump to rally his base on issues of immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections. 


Can he do that? Probably not. While nearly all scholars on both sides of the political spectrum agree that birthright citizenship is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th 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” — some claim it could exclude undocumented immigrants, given judicial precedent. But far fewer believe that measure could be taken with a presidential executive order. Besides, any such order would likely be challenged immediately in court, where legal experts expect it would be struck down. 

Political gain. Trump’s proposal comes one week before America’s midterm elections on Nov. 6, in which many pollsters expect Democratic candidates to make gains. The president’s critics have largely called out the focus on citizenship — given its legal unlikelihood — as a strategy to get hard-line anti-immigration conservatives to turn out at the polls. Others say it could just as easily backfire against more moderate GOP candidates.

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Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, leaves a House Republicans’ caucus meeting on immigration reforms in June 2018.

Source Bill Clark/Getty

Playing identity politics. Those favoring a narrower interpretation of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 to solidify the citizenship of former slaves, include Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa — who’s pushed lawmakers to repeal the policy since at least 2015. Meanwhile, former Ku Klux Klan member Derek Black, who renounced his affiliation in 2013 despite being the godson of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, described Trump’s proposal as resembling a key White nationalist goal — “one of the cornerstones of their belief system.” 

America’s not alone. While Trump claimed this week that the U.S. is the only country providing birthright citizenship, that’s not true: At least 35 countries, from Argentina to Lesotho — and including neighbors Mexico and Canada — offer it too. But the U.S. wouldn’t be the first to drop it either. Within the past 25 years, France, New Zealand and Ireland have all dumped birthright citizenship in favor of a policy known as jus sanguinis, wherein citizenship is granted automatically only if the child has at least one parent native to the country. Meanwhile, a 2011 Pew Research poll found that 57 percent of Americans oppose amending the Constitution to jettison birthright citizenship. 


The Problem With Challenging Birthright Citizenship, by Garrett Epps in The Atlantic

“On this scale, we are not talking about immigration policy; we are talking (I don’t have time for political correctness here) about a crime against humanity.” 

Citizenship Shouldn’t Be a Birthright, by Michael Anton in The Washington Post

“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.” 


President to Terminate Birthright Citizenship

“It’s in the process. It’ll happen, with an executive order.”

Watch on Axios on YouTube:

Paul Ryan: Trump Can’t End Birthright Citizenship

“We didn’t like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws with an executive action, and obviously as conservatives we believe in the Constitution.”

Watch on CNN on YouTube:


Twist of fate. President Trump himself profits from birthright citizenship in at least one way: Wealthy Russian women are increasingly traveling stateside to bear their children, to guarantee them American passports — known as “birth tourism” — and a Daily Beast investigation found that Trump’s own Florida properties are wildly popular among expectant Russian families. The privately owned rental properties are advertised by companies specializing in Russian birth tourism, and women have posted photos on Instagram of themselves pregnant or with newborns at the Trump International Beach Resort in Miami.

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