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Critics Say Trump's Citizenship Move Has Fishy Timing

President talks about ending birthright citizenship a week ahead of elections
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2018 1:48 PM CDT

(Newser) – President Trump made big headlines Tuesday by revealing to Axios that he intends to end the practice of "birthright citizenship" with an executive order. Trump maintained that the idea of granting US citizenship to a newborn simply because the child was born on American soil is "ridiculous" and rejected the idea that he didn't have the power to alter a protection cited in the Constitution. (See the video here.) Is he right? Here's the latest:

  • The law: The 14th Amendment states that "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." USA Today explains that it was added in 1868, primarily to grant citizenship to freed slaves. (Legal aficionados can dig into this primer on relevant case law.)
  • The key debate: It's true Trump can't change the Constitution on his own, but a widely cited op-ed in the Washington Post makes the case that Trump can use an executive order to clarify the amendment's meaning. Michael Anton, a former national security official for Trump, argues that it's an "absurdity" how the law is now interpreted. He says Trump could tell federal agencies that the "children of noncitizens are not citizens." Anton notes the order would be quickly challenged in court.

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  • Other nations: Trump stated incorrectly that the US is the only nation in the world that grants birthright citizenship. Actually, at least 30 nations do, per the Center for Immigration Studies. However, the US and Canada are the only two "developed" nations that do so, as defined by the IMF, reports the Washington Post. See the list here.
  • The numbers: So how many babies per year get this status? The Pew Research Center estimates that 275,000 babies were born in the US to undocumented parents in 2014, about 7% of all births in the country that year, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The politics: Most stories point out that Trump's comments come just a week ahead of the midterms, with immigration one of the big issues the GOP is using to get voters energized. These headlines could help GOP candidates in red-state Senate races, writes Susan Page in USA Today. However, it could also hurt Republicans in close House races, particularly in the suburbs, she adds.
  • A critic: “The president cannot erase the Constitution with an executive order,” says Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This is a transparent and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to sow division and fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms.”
  • A booster: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says he loves Trump's idea and plans to introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship, in case Trump can't do it alone, reports the Hill.
(Read more birthright citizenship stories.)

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