weather icon Clear

Trump cites Reid in call for ending birthright citizenship

President Donald Trump summoned two unusual allies in his call to limit birthright citizenship: Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

Last week, Axios reported that Trump wants to use an executive order to stop giving birthright citizenship to children born here to illegal alien mothers. Currently, the government gives citizenship to almost every child born in the United States.

Ending birthright citizenship makes so much sense, even former Sen. Reid once supported it. Trump gleefully tweeted out a 1993 speech Reid made while introducing a bill to do what Trump now proposes.

“If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant?” Reid said in 1993. “No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship.”

Reid reversed his position some time later, but his logic is still sound.

Tellingly, Reid’s bill wasn’t a constitutional amendment. It sought to clarify Congress’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment. You’ll often hear that anyone born here is automatically a citizen because of that amendment, but that’s not true. It reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

What does that phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” mean? That’s the subject of much debate. Some scholars say illegal immigrants are subject to the country’s laws — they can be charged with crimes — so that means they’re under U.S. jurisdiction. Others argue that phrase at the time meant “not owing allegiance to any other sovereign.” For evidence, they note that the government used that clause to deny citizenship to some children born here. Excluded groups include non-citizens aboard foreign vessels that rest in U.S. waters and tribal Native Americans. Congress granted Native Americans citizenship by statute in 1924.

Complicating the debate further is that when Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1866, illegal immigration didn’t exist. The federal government didn’t pass immigration restrictions, aside from ending the international slave trade, until 1875.

Given those facts, it’s a stretch to conclude the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to children born to illegal immigrant parents. There’s no Supreme Court precedent involving illegal immigrant parents, either.

But can Trump do this via executive order? The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate immigration. Trump’s argument is that he would just instruct his agencies to reinterpret the immigration law Congress passed in 1952, which has language mirroring the 14th Amendment.

He’s said that if then-President Obama could create DACA by executive order, then he could end birthright citizenship. Two wrongs don’t make a right, however. Immigration belongs to Congress, and the president shouldn’t be able to reinterpret the meaning of words that have been in effect for decades. This is similar to how Obama was wrong to redefine the word “sex” in Title IX to mean gender identity.

When it comes to birthright citizenship, Trump is right on the merits but needs to refine his tactics.

Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Tim Burke: Reflecting on dads as Father’s Day nears

Being a father is a gift that not everyone gets to experience but for those of us who are lucky enough to be a dad, the role comes with a lot of responsibility in raising children. Moms rule the house and make everything work as a family unit, but dads play an important role in teaching their children how to become good adults.

Dennis Myers: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak cast a veto against the founders

In his veto of Assembly Bill 186, Gov. Steve Sisolak argues that he is speaking for the founding fathers (they were all men) in their cutting and splicing of the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan at the constitutional convention when they were trying to placate not the small states but the slave states, most of which happened to be the small ones.

Tim Burke: Showing pride for newest graduates, reflecting on history

Life for this year’s Pahrump Valley High School graduating senior class will have quite a different immediate future in front of them than did those who were graduating during World War II.

Dan Schinhofen: Politics as usual with Yucca Mountain

The U.S. House of Representatives just released their budget and what a surprise, no funding to continue the licensing on Yucca Mountain, our national repository.

Dennis Myers: How the system was broken and why it continues

In May, the Nevada Senate voted final passage of a measure removing several sections from Nevada abortion law that are incompatible with the state’s voter-approved legal abortion statute.