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.
GARY OWEN: Steer clear of COVID-19 scams with some helpful tips

The coronavirus has put a financial strain on many families and businesses. The government, financial institutions and other organizations are rallying to support those in need. As more support is offered to Americans and businesses that are struggling financially, the threat of fraud is increasing.

TIM BURKE: Supreme Court: it’s OK to lie in political campaign

The mail-in ballot process for this year’s primary has changed how campaigns for office are conducted in this election. The campaigning season is shorter, and there is less advertising by candidates as a consequence.

STEVE SEBELIUS: No fraud, lawbreaking in mail election

Despite tweeted claims by President Donald Trump, Nevada’s mail-in election is completely legal and claims of fraud are speculative and unsupported by evidence.

TIM BURKE: High school using novel approach for graduation

The stay-at-home order has robbed our young adults who graduate high school this year of significant milestones that mark their passage into adulthood.

Ready or not lockdown season is coming to an end

On May 15, city officials declared Atwater, California a “sanctuary city.” Not for undocumented immigrants, but for businesses and churches who choose to ignore governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19-related shutdown orders. The city won’t be enforcing the governor’s edicts. Those edicts, mayor Paul Creighton told local businesses, are “between you and the state of California.”