Ending birthright citizenship is unethical (and unconstitutional)

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21


In late October, Donald Trump informed the nation of an executive order he was preparing that would eliminate birthright citizenship, the amendment that currently grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. territory. His reasoning was simple: that America is the only country to have birthright citizenship (this is false; around 30 other countries share this law).

Beyond the fact that Trump’s executive order is simply unethical, it is unconstitutional. It violates the 14th Amendment, which states that all those born or naturalized in the country are citizens and will therefore enjoy rights and privileges as such. Trump’s proposition, although popular with his base, has not been accepted by some of his fellow conservatives. Paul Ryan, the conservative Speaker of the House, and constitutional law professor Josh Blackman have both denounced Trump’s proposed executive order due to its unconstitutionality.

As a child of legal immigrants, I am not the target of this order and am therefore not able to speak directly to the experiences of those who are. However, I can consider my family’s experiences.

My father left Algeria to attend school in the U.S. after he was encouraged to study in a Western nation. He decided to stay in the U.S. due to the political violence in Algeria, a police state in which journalists are jailed and people who protest the state are shot. In addition, our ethnic group, the Kabyles, have been historically oppressed. Our language has been banned and there is a lack of infrastructural and economic development in our homeland of la Kabylie, in Northern Central Algeria. First, we were murdered by the French in millions, and now by our own government. The Algerian government has killed Kabyle insurgents and activists, such as popular singer Lounes Matoub.

My father told me that when he became a U.S. citizen, he felt proud to be American because he was now part of the greatest democracy in the world and would be protected by it. My mother, a Kabyle French citizen, came to the U.S. to be with my father. As a white-passing individual she was not fleeing racism herself, but she still desired to live in the U.S. instead of France to escape the violent discrimination my North African father would face. My father would have never been able to get a job in France. To him, America was like an almost fictitious “land of opportunity.” It is still a fantasy championed by our nation, but one that is increasingly being denied to the people who need it the most.

Most immigrants who come to America simply want their children to live comfortably, to enjoy the privileges and opportunities citizenship would grant them. Leaving your home country is incredibly dangerous to begin with; to leave an established life and start over in a land that rejects you so vehemently is unimaginably worse. Furthermore, birthright citizens are 100 percent culturally American, and to strip them of their citizenship takes away their American identity and, in many cases, leaves them nowhere to go.

More than one million citizens across the nation have at least one undocumented parent, meaning if Trump were to follow through with the executive order, he would strip more than one million Americans of their due privileges as U.S. citizens and invalidate their families’ continued struggle to create a better life for their children.

The executive order enforces an exclusionary idea of who an American is –– unsurprising from a man who called neo-Nazis “fine people.” If America truly valued diversity and universality, birthright citizenship would never even be questioned. Revoking the status of birthright citizens has nothing to do with issues of safety; it serves simply to make America even more white and exclusionary than it already is.