Trump and Birthright Citizenship


In an interview with “Axios on HBO” scheduled to air Sunday, President Trump said he believes he can end birthright citizenship with an executive order.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Trump said. “No. 1, no. 1, you don’t need that. You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

Trump called the concept of birthright citizenship “ridiculous,” even though it is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…” He claimed, falsely, “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 for 85 years with all of those benefits.”

First, I disagree that this can be done without amending the constitution. The language is clear and has been interpreted that way since it was written.

Second, I do think it is worth considering amending the Constitution to exclude birthright citizenship. That was a provision specifically targeted at ensuring that former slaves were granted full citizenship. The need for that has passed and we, as a nation, have the right and duty to decide whether birthright citizenship continues to make sense. Birthright citizenship is rare in the world. That doesn’t make it wrong, but that’s why we should have the national debate.

Third, the only reason that birthright citizenship is an issue is because we do a terrible job at enforcing our borders. If we were more competent at managing legal and illegal immigration, then the number of people to whom birthright citizenship matters would shrink to insignificance. Birthright citizenship would be merely an arcane quick of our Constitution that could be evaluated dispassionately. As it is, the debate over birthright citizenship becomes tainted with overtones of race.

It it were up to me, I’d leave birthright citizenship alone and enforce our borders better. But as I said, if we have solid border security, then birthright citizenship doesn’t really matter anyway.