Trump seeks to limit birthright citizenship in constitution

US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)
US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)

US President Donald Trump has said he plans to sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorised immigrants born on US soil, a proposal one legal expert called "absurd". 

"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," Trump told "Axios on HBO" in an interview, excerpts of which were released on Tuesday. "It’s ridiculous. And it has to end."


Trump asserted that it would not take a constitutional amendment to rescind birthright citizenship from some people born in the US, a stance that would undoubtedly draw a legal challenge should he proceed.

"It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t," he said.

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution spells out birthplace as an arbiter of citizenship, stating that, "All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

'Absurd notion'

Sarah Turberville, a constitutional expert at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent nonprofit, said Trump’s proposal would be ripe for a court challenge from those stripped of citizenship. It would also likely prompt bipartisan congressional charges of executive overreach, Turberville said.

"It’s a pretty absurd notion frankly that the president believes he would be able to amend the Constitution and 150-plus years of interpreting the 14th Amendment through an executive order," Turberville said in an interview on Tuesday.

Trump’s proposal comes a exactly a week before lawmakers midterm elections, in which Trump’s Republican Party is bracing for heavy losses and a potential Democratic takeover of the US House.

The move could give a boost to Trump’s fellow immigration hard-liners. Maine Senate candidate Eric Brakey, a Republican who is challenging incumbent Angus King, endorsed Trump’s plan in a statement, saying the president "needs fresh support in Congress to follow through."

Trump’s claim that the US is the only country that extends birthright citizenship is inaccurate. While the president is correct that European countries all require a period of residency before bestowing citizenship on those born to foreign parents, many countries in the Americas such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have US-style birthright citizenship.

Hate crimes

Asked about timing or legal justification for the executive order, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said only that the full interview with the president would air Sunday.

Trump has been trying to restore the public focus on immigration after the events of the past week, which included the arrest of a Trump supporter in connection with mailing at least 13 suspected explosive devices to targets of the president’s ire, including Democratic politicians and the cable network CNN.

In another incident, a gunman on Saturday shot and killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in what authorities have said was a hate crime.

After an initial call for unity, Trump has increased his rhetoric against the media and undocumented immigrants, including a group of Central American migrants that is heading toward the US through Mexico.

The Trump administration announced Monday that it would send about 5 200 troops to the southern border with Mexico by the end of the week to head off the migrants.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in September said the US planned to lower the cap on refugee admissions by a third to a record low 30 000 people for the coming fiscal year.

Immediately after taking office in January 2017, Trump attempted to ban entrants from several Muslim nations, an effort that was turned down by the courts and forced his administration to rewrite the policy before the US Supreme Court in June upheld the latest iteration.

Axios said its full interview with Trump would air on Sunday. 

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER

Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Do you think it was a good idea for the government to approach the IMF for a $4.3 billion loan to fight Covid-19?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes. We need the money.
11% - 976 votes
It depends on how the funds are used.
74% - 6478 votes
No. We should have gotten the loan elsewhere.
15% - 1344 votes