Trump says he can defy US Constitution to end birthright citizenship

Nicholas Kamm, AFP | In this file photo taken on October 27, 2018, US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing for a rally in Murphysboro, Illinois.

President Donald Trump vowed to end the right of citizenship to children born in the United States to non-citizens and illegal immigrants in his latest bid to dramatically reshape immigration policies just days before the midterm elections.


Trump would target the citizenship right through an executive order, he told news website Axios in an interview published on Tuesday, a move that would prompt a legal fight.

The right of US citizenship is granted to US-born children under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which cannot be changed by the president.

The text of the 14th Amendment reads: “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.” Current Supreme Court precedent shows that the children of non-citizens born in the United States are citizens.

It was unclear what specific action his order would pursue, and Trump gave no details. He did not say when he planned to sign the executive order, or how the White House would go about reviewing the change. He has previously lied about proposed executive orders, which have gone unfulfilled.

"This is blatantly unconstitutional," Omar Jadwat, head of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project told Reuters. "The president obviously cannot overturn the Constitution by executive order. The notion that he would even try is absurd."

Changing an amendment in the Constitution would require the support of two-thirds of the US House of Representatives and the Senate, and the backing of three-fourths of US state legislatures at a constitutional convention.

Trump: 'It'll happen'

But Trump said he has talked to his legal counsel and was advised he could enact the change on his own. Asked about the dispute over such presidential powers, Trump said he stood by his comments.

"It's in the process. It'll happen," he told Axios in the interview, which will air in full on the HBO pay cable channel on Sunday.

Trump also claimed that the US is the only country to have such a policy, which is entirely false. There are about 30 countries that apply the principle of birthright citizenship.

Some conservatives have long pushed for an end to the guarantee of birthright citizenship. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham welcomed Trump's announcement on Twitter, calling the practice a "magnet for illegal immigration".

But other Republicans pushed back on the news, saying that a key tenet of the American Constitution could not be changed so easily.

"You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order," said House Speaker Paul Ryan. "You obviously cannot do that," he continued, speaking to Kentucky radio station WVLK on Tuesday.

Trump, whose hard-line immigration stance helped him win the White House, has seized on the issue in recent weeks in the run-up to the November 6 vote that has Americans sharply divided and grappling with race and national identity.

His latest comments also come after the deadliest attack on Jews in US history on Saturday and a series of bombs sent to top Democrats and other Trump critics last week.

'A false narrative on immigation'

Democrats and other critics have condemned the president's rhetoric as inflammatory, urging Trump to tone down his language and calling on voters to use the elections as a way to reject such policies.

US Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told MSNBC that Trump "was driving a false narrative on immigration" in many ways to stoke fear and turn it into an election issue.

On Monday, the administration moved to send more than 5,200 troops to help secure the border with Mexico as a caravan of Central American migrants, mostly on foot, makes its way there, although it is unclear how many will arrive at the border or when.

This legal challenge would prompt the nation's courts to weigh in on what would be one of the most sweeping moves of the Trump administration. It has already targeted immigration through a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries, child-parent separations for migrants, refugee policies and other actions.

In 1898, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of citizenship to children born to legal permanent residents. But conservatives say it should not apply to everyone, including immigrants in the country illegally or those with temporary legal status, Axios reported.


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