Trump threatens to take away path to legal birthright citizenship

Graphic by Anjali Rao-Herel ’22

Graphic by Anjali Rao-Herel ’22


President Donald Trump announced plans for an executive order to end birthright citizenship for Americans on Oct. 30. Political pundits and journalists were quick to announce that birthright citizenship is a constitutional guarantee that would take an act of Congress to amend. According to the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “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.”

Throughout American history, there have been different processes of gaining citizenship — naturalization, acquisition, derivation and citizenship through birth, according to CitizenPath. Birthright citizenship, or becoming a citizen of the U.S. by being born in its territory, has been a fundamental Constitutional right since it was adopted in 1868 to ensure formerly enslaved peoples had equal constitutional rights after the Civil War. It has remained in place for 150 years.

In an interview with Axios, Trump said America is “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. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.” This statement is undeniably false. A study by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that more than 30 countries across the globe employ birthright citizenship, including America’s border countries, Canada and Mexico.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than four million children born in the U.S. are living with at least one undocumented parent, making them citizens through birthright. This provision grants those children the rights of citizenship, including the right to a fair trial, the right to apply for federal employment and the right to vote, as defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Many of those children granted birthright citizenship do not have another country to return to if that citizenship is taken away, which brings up a larger question: what would happen if Trump were able to successfully eliminate the birthright citizenship clause? Would current citizens have their statuses revoked? If so, where would those people go?

Trump has claimed he could take away birthright citizenship through executive order. Constitutional amendments can only be repealed through another amendment, proposed by Congress with a two-thirds majority or by a constitutional convention, both of which depend on state and federal legislature. In fact, the only amendment that has been repealed is the 21st Amendment, better known as the “Prohibition amendment,” which disallowed the consumption and sales of alcohol.

An article in The New Yorker reflected on the fact that “when the amendment was ratified, in 1868, the clause ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ was intended to exclude only the children of diplomats and members of certain Native American tribal nations, and, theoretically, a foreign army that had occupied some part of the United States.” However, opponents of birthright citizenship have used the vague language in the Constitution to argue that the amendment was actually meant to “exclude the children of all foreigners.”

Trump’s promise to dissolve birthright citizenship was met with support and excitement from his base, but Democrats and Republicans alike are speaking out — albeit for different reasons. While many Democrats are pointing out the racist and xenophobic implications and subtext of Trump’s words, some Republicans disapprove because of their strict interpretations of the Constitution.

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, “I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and [removing it] would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

Students say repealing birthright citizenship does more than just strip citizens of their legal rights. It also intensely otherizes children of undocumented immigrants and creates inherent inequality between children born in the U.S. based solely on the citizenship of their parents. Nohelya Zambrano ’21, who is currently enrolled in a Latinx immigration class, reflected on the otherization of immigrants. “This rhetoric continues forcing people to keep existing in marginalized communities and in more fear,” Zambrano said. Even though Trump may not be legally able to repeal birthright citizenship by executive order, his desire to do so emphasizes the current political climate of the U.S. under his administration: intolerant of and unsympathetic towards immigrants and their families.

“Birthright citizenship sets a precedent about how we [immigrants] are allowed to exist in this country, and it is violent to take that away,” said Zambrano.