Trump Considers Executive Order to End Birthright Citizenship

30 October, 2018

President Donald Trump says he wants to end to the constitutional right of citizenship for babies born in the United States to non-U.S. citizens.

Trump made the comments on the television program "Axios on HBO." They come a week before general elections, also called mid-term elections. The name comes from the fact that they come half way through the president's four-year term in office.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the president wants to energize his supporters and help the Republican Party keep control of Congress.

Trump has expressed concern about a large group of Central American migrants walking across Mexico toward the U.S. border.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced it is sending thousands of troops to the border area. The president has said he will build tent cities for those seeking asylum.

A man, part of a caravan of migrants from Central America en route to the United States, carries a girl through the Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Oct. 29, 2018.
A man, part of a caravan of migrants from Central America en route to the United States, carries a girl through the Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Oct. 29, 2018.

Does president have the power?

For years, Trump and many U.S. conservatives have called for an end to birthright citizenship. One idea is for the president to sign an executive order to suspend that constitutional right. But it is not clear if a president has the power to declare that children born in the United States to those living here illegally are not citizens.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that right for all children born in the United States.

When asked if he had the power to make such a change, Trump said, "they're saying I can do it just with an executive order." He added that "we're the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is...a citizen of the United States."

A 2010 study from the Center for Immigration Studies showed that 30 countries offered birthright citizenship.

Some of Trump's recent comments were published Tuesday on Axios's website. The president said that government lawyers are studying his proposal. It is unclear how quickly he would act on the executive order.

A person close to the Trump White House said the issue of birthright citizenship had been raised many times during the past year. However, some White House officials reportedly expressed opposition to any change.

White House lawyers will work with the Justice Department to develop a legal justification for the action, the person said. The person added that it is one of many immigration policy changes being discussed.

Some legal experts say no

Legal experts questioned whether Trump has the power to make such changes with an executive order.

Omar Jadwat is the director of the Immigrants' Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. He noted that the U.S. Constitution is very clear.

"If you are born in the United States, you're a citizen," he said. He added that it was "outrageous that the president can think he can override constitutional guarantees by issuing an executive order."

Jadwat said the president is required to defend the Constitution. He added that Trump can try to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, but he said, "I don't think they are anywhere close to getting that." Any decision by Congress would end up in court, Jadwat said.

Suzanna Sherry is a professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School in Tennessee. She told the Associated Press that people who are telling Trump he can change the Constitution with an executive order are mistaken. "He can't do it by himself," she said, adding that he cannot do it even if Congress agrees.

Sherry said, "I think it would take a Constitutional amendment."

Under the Constitution, an amendment may be proposed by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Or two-third of state legislatures must call for a special meeting, or constitutional convention.

Others disagree

But other experts say the U.S. president may have the power to end birthright citizenship.

Jon Feere is an adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He has argued that that the president could limit citizenship through an executive order.

Feere wrote that a president could direct the government to follow his interpretation of the Supreme Court's past rulings. The court has only ruled on the children of legal immigrants. It has not ruled on the children of those asking for asylum or those who are in the country illegally.

Feere also wrote that a president could tell the government to give Social Security numbers and passports only to children who have at least one parent who is a citizen or parents who are in the United States legally. His argument was published in The Hill in 2015.

The first line of the 14th Amendment states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States..."

Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1866 after the Civil War. It was agreed to by three-fourths of the states in 1868. At the time, the amendment was seen as a way to guarantee citizenship to freed slaves and their children.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Mario Ritter.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

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Words in This Story

tent – n.a cloth house for temporary living

birthright – n.the rights given to a person at birth

executive – adj.something from the Presidential arm of the government

outrageous – adj.very bad or wrong in a way that causes anger, too bad to be accepted or allowed

interpretation – n.the way something is explained or understood

convention - n. a large meeting of people